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Full text of "Heresies Magazine Issue #12: Sex Issue (Volume 3, Number 4)"

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1 Editorial 

1 Typical Week and a Half Anonymous 

2 The Dilemma of the One Who Wants Both and 
Neither... Su Friedrich 

3 The Mother-Daughter Relationship and Sexual 
Ambivalence Helle Thorning 

3,4 Ann's Dream I and II Mary Clare Powell 

5 The Book of Love . . . Vanalyne Green 

7 Anatomies and Destinies (Fragments) 

Nancy Huston 

8 Vini Summer Brenner 

9 The Babyman Sondra Segal 

9 Post-Partum Document Mary Kelly 

10 Interviews with Five Faghagging Women 

Camilla Decarnin 

15 intro & 10 takes hattie gossett 

19 yo daddy ! — an 80s version of the dozens 

hattie gossett 

19 Photos Diane Meyers 

20 simple truths corbett with help from the criplets 

20 Study for a Book of Lesbian Erotic Images 
Tee Corinne 

21 Butch-Fern Relationships Joan Nestle 
25 Impersonals 

25 Editorial 

26 The Celibacy Letters Sandra M. Whisler 
29 Editorial 

29 Susan and Nancy Nancy Fried 

29 Photo Kay Kenny 

30 Feminism and Sadomasochism Pat Califia 

35 Jersey Shore Women's Wrestling 

36 Venus Seph Weene 

38 Stripper Coreen Simpson 

39 Editorial 

40 The Male Nude in Women's Art Eunice Golden 
43 A Sense of Touch Harmony Hammond 

47 Island Cabin Irare Sabasu 

47 Gently Stalking Solitude Betye Saar 

48 Pornography and Pleasure Paula Webster 
48 Tits & Clits Comix Cory 

5 1 Purity pink and everything neat Glenda Hydler 

52 Mustang Ranch Sandi Fellman 



54 Oh Yes Come In Batya Weinbaum 

54 True Life Novelette Barbara DeGenevieve 

55 A Father's Influence on the Sexuality of a Young 
Woman Mary Winston 

57 Editorial 

58 What We're Rollin Around in Bed With Amber 
Hollibaugh and Chern'e Moraga 

63 A Herstorical Look at Some Aspects of Black 
Sexuality Sylvia Witts Vitale 

66 Variety Is the Spice of Life Muriel Dimen 

66 SSSexuality Diane Sipprelle 

67 Odalisque Lyn Hughes 

68 Photo Carol Harmel 

70 The Kiss Fran Winant 

71 Sexual Imperialism Rekha Basu 

72 Photos Dorannejacobson 

74 I Hear Voices But See No Faces Vickie M.Mays 

77 I Met a Woman Alesia Kunz 

80 Lust Is Just a Four-Letter Word J. Lee Lehman 

81 Lovenotes II and IV Janet Ruth Heller 

82 Making Art/Making Love Sandra De Sando 
85 Confessions of a Quiltist Radka Donnell 

87 Counterpoint Leslie Simon 

87 Leg over Cactus Linda Troeller 

88 Narcissism, Feminism, and Video Art Micki McGee 
92 Editorial 

92 Perfect Barbara Kruger 

92 News Flash: People Organize to Protest Recent 
NOW Resolution on Lesbian and Gay Rights 

94 Burnout Laura Sky Brown 

94 Editorial 



Heresies: A Feminist Publication. on Art & Politics is published Winter, 
Spring, Summer and Fall by Heresies Collective, Inc., 225 Lafayette Street, 
New York, NY 10012. 

Subscription rates: $15 for four issues; $24 for institutions. Outside the 
U.S. and Canada add $2 postage. Single copies: $5 each. Address all cor- 
respondence to Heresies, PO Box 766, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 
10013. 

Heresies, ISSN 0146-3411. Vol. 3, No. 4, Issue 12. 
© 1981 . Heresies Collective. All rights reserved. 

Printed by Faculty Press, Brooklyn, NY 



Cover fragments taken from "Blue Confessions: A Fantasy" 
by Martha Balsam. 



"Sexuality" is the title of this issue. 
It has taken us almost two years to pro- 
duce, and along the way there have 
been many disagreements and difficul- 
ties, both intellectual and interperson- 
al. Most of these problems, we believe, 
can be traced to one central issue which 
remained implicit for most of the two 
years — what is the meaning of the word 
"sexuality?" As individuals, we not only 
included different phenomena under 
the term, but we also approached the 
topic with varied theoretical and prac- 
tical frameworks. Most important, the 
specific aspects of sexuality on which 
we wanted this issue of Heresies to fo- 
cus did not always overlap. 

If there can be said to have been a 
majority interest in the collective, it 
was in examining that aspect of sexu- 
lity which might be called "desire." 
Where do our desires come from? How 
do they manifest themselves in their 
infinite variations? And what, if any- 
thing, do they tell us about what it 
means to be a woman? The magazine 



we have produced reflects that majori- 
ty view. 

The question of desire is a highly 
personal one, although it must be con- 
textualized within a larger social and 
theoretical framework. Many of the 
articles do speak to this. Yet any in- 
quiry into desire raises the question: Of 
what concern are issues of erotic desire, 
sexual satisfaction, and pleasure to 
women who, for economic or social 
reasons, must allow men access to their 
bodies in exchange for food, shelter, 
and, indeed, staying alive? The ques- 
tion of relevance of definitions has 
probably been the most painful source 
of conflict within our collective. 

Additional sources of conflict about 
the meaning of "sexuality" included 
whether or not we were slanting the 
perspective of the issue too much in the 
direction of "negative" aspects of sexu- 
ality, and what "negative" meant in 
regard to sexuality. We debated wheth- 
er or not reproductive issues (menstru- 
ation, contraception, abortion, sterili- 



zation, pregnancy, and childbirth) 
were essential to any discussion pur- 
porting to deal with female sexuality. 

As is probably true of any group 
effort, none of us feels that this is the 
magazine we would have produced if 
we had the individual power to make 
the decisions. Some of us, however, are 
more satisfied with the final product 
than others. Our lack of consensus led 
to our decision to have a number of 
editorial statements throughout the 
magazine. Each was written by one or 
two of us, but all of them reflect differ- 
ent facets of the complex task of ana- 
lyzing the nature of women's sexuality. 

Just as we have chosen, in the end, 
to retain our separate voices, most of 
us believe it is neither possible nor de- 
sirable to try to speak to all women 
about all things in 96 pages. We do 
hope, though, that this issue will stim- 
ulate you in all senses of that word, 
and arouse your desire to inquire into 
the meaning of sexuality for yourself 
and for feminism. 



The Sexuality Issue Collective: Hannah Alderfer, Sandra De Sando, Beth Jaker, Kay Kenny, Suzanne Kessler, Wendy 
McKenna, Marybeth Nelson, Effie M. Serbs, Sylvia Witts Vitale, Paula Webster, Leanna Wolfe 



Our very special thanks to Sue Heine - 
mann for assistance above and beyond 
the call of duty. 

Our special thanks to: 

Norma Atkinstall -Tyler 

Lorraine Bethel 

Cynthia Carr 

Anne Drillick 

Jessica Falstein 

Yvonne Flowers 

Su Friedrich 

Alesia Kunz 

Lesbian Herstory Archives 

Gail Lineback 

Joan Nestle 

Shari Segal 

This issue was typeset in Baskerville by 
Myrna Zimmerman, with headlines by 
Scarlett Letters. 



OPEN MEETING 

Friday,Junel2at8P.M. 
Franklin Furnace 
112 Franklin Street 
New York City 



Typical Week and a Half 

Mon. Fantasized fucking a woman with a penis and not letting her use her penis 
on me. No sex today. 

Tues. Dressed in jockey shorts and a long white dress. Looked for a woman or a 
man dressed as a woman. 

Wed. Made love to a man with a vagina while I fantasized that I was dressed as 
a man making love to a woman. 

Thurs. Got fucked by a man and loved it. No fantasy. 

Fri. Got eaten by a woman and loved it. No fantasy. 

Sat. Played with myself. Fantasized that I was a woman playing with herself. 

Sun. A man, pretending to be a woman, let me eat him. I fantasized that he 
was a woman pretending to be a man. 

Mon. While being fucked by a man, I pretended I was fucking him. One of us 
came. 

Tues. A woman made love to me. After, she told me that she was a man and 
hated queers. She never undressed. 

Wed. Went looking for a man to fuck me, but changed my mind and went home 
with someone dressed in pants. 

Thurs. Two people picked me up. One had a penis; the other never undressed. 
I was satisfied by both. 

Fri. 



Filled out a sex questionnaire. 



Anonymous 




stargazer 



THE DILEMMA OF THE ONE WHO WANTS BOTH 
AND NEITHER But Who WxiH Prefer To Get On 
With Her Work Instead Of Being Preoccuppied With 
Whether Anyone Will Ever make love to her right 

Su Friedrich 

Without reference to Literature or History, I want to tell some stories and give some historical back- 
ground. In the beginning there is myself. And words, given to me by others. And bodies and minds of 
others which seem to fit my imagination. I consider whether I can name them lover. The desire for 
one — a woman — will make me burn in hell. The desire for the other— a man — is not desire. The one 
whom I desire does not desire me. The one whom I tell myself to desire desires me passionately. 
Neither pleases me. Both invade me with longing. Both are the only ones I would depend on, although 
both seem to guarantee disappointment. Do I relish suffering, or is this my determination to make of 
something what it isn't? 

The one whom I desire to delight responds to being delighted: she is delighted. The one whom I can 
delight is responsive: he delights himself. I can move over and through her body with care and passion, 
and she agrees but cannot do the same. I lie in wait; my desire smolders; active reverts to passive; I can 
do but I am not done to. He can move through my body without touching me; I can be done to with- 
out having done anything. Still I lie in wait, having little desire to act upon him but despising my 
passiveness. My desire cools. 

This clitoris cannot demand attention, it can only expect it. I want to direct my own pleasure. 
I have no patience left with lying back and receiving clumsy embraces. Depending on the other's 
understanding of my desires provokes rage, helplessness, and anxiety. His pleasure (of me, with me) 
would reach fruition without my ever having to do anything to him. I am not the active ingredient, 
though I could be if I cared to be. Her pleasure is in being done to by me as I know best— and I know 
how— and I know because I know what can reach the deepest part of me when I lie back and let myself 
be done to by one who knows. 

I am not averse to being pleasured by another, but it isn't enough to feel that the other might be 
convinced of the particularities of my desire. The rage and anxiety remain. I cannot always depend on 
the good intentions of the other. Too often they fall asleep, muttering reassurances to me. Next time. 
He convinces me to let him take. She convinces me to give to her. I have agreed to this collusion. 
I resist because I cannot dictate my own rhythms. I will not forcibly please myself at the other's ex- 
pense. If they are lacking, I cannot take control unless I masturbate, leaving myself once again alone 
in the presence of the other. 

There is the ideal: the balance of doing to (him, her) and being done to (by him, her). How often we 
refuse being done to : there is the radical danger of vulnerability and selfishness. How often we refuse 
doing to: we avoid the complexity of power and willfulness. How often he does and she is done to: a 
mute silence accompanies the act. 

Two separate stories with the same ending: We fall into bed we fall onto the floor we hold onto we 
clamber over we grind into each other, hands mouth teeth tongue grope over each other, ass palate 
thighs throat nipples cunt cock clit. Being entered but I cannot enter. He has no orifice but the act is 
inside. I have an orifice but my depth is on the surface. He needs to be inside; I need him outside me. 
I am inside her when I am on her surface. Being on her outside is her inside pleasure, and is a vicarious 
pleasure for me. He finds a repository for himself in me but he does not find me. I surround him but I 
want him surrounding me. I grow tired of words, but can my body explain myself when at last, my 
surface on fire and my core white-hot, I cannot take my own pleasure but can only receive it? 
My yearning for perfection endangers me. Now I can either acknowledge the limitations of the pleas 
ures that I have received or remove myself firmly and quietly from the beds of my lovers. I must not be 
ungrateful. I must not be too grateful. There is a more profound pleasure. There is a limitless hunger. 
It has only been assuaged, but not satiated. When he, when she, when we recognize our limits, will 
we have the courage to surpass them? 

Su Friedrich is always a filmmaker and sometimes a writer who lives in NYC. © 1981 Su Friedrich 
2 




hammerhead 




We were in bed having a good time 
talking about everything and nothing. 
Feeling very secure, I pressed my body 
against his, wishing to be totally en- 
closed by him. He touched my face 
and my hair and I salivated from pure 
content, almost overwhelmed by a 
secure sleep. Then his hands began to 
move around my body, to my breast 
and to my vagina. It felt good, yet my 
muscles started to tighten up — re- 
sponding with a clear "no. " "Please, " I 
said, "Not now. I am tired. . . I have a 
headache . . .1 have my period. . . 
cramps. " I heard myself say this, re- 
peating what had been said many a 
night before. And we were back again 
playing the same game: "Why does it 
always have to end with us fucking?" I 
ask. "Why do you always get so tired? I 
like making love to you, " he replies. I 
turn my back to him, saying: "I don 't 
give a damn about your enormous 
male libido, just leave me alone. " 

But what is it that I really like? 
What is it that I really want, sexually? 
Why is it that I turn away from him 
even though I feel pleasure and ris- 
ing lust? I do know what I imagine 
when I masturbate. Yet my innermost 
sexual fantasies, with their emphasis 
on passivity and total male dominance, 
are frightening, because they are so 
contradictory to what I, as a feminist, 
think. 

The feminist movement has criti- 
cized male-dominated sex and men's 
"prick-in-cunt" view of making love. 
In reaction to the picture of woman as 
sex-gratifying object, there has been a 
tendency to separate sensuality from 
genital fulfillment. The pleasure of 
penetration is dismissed as emphasis is 
placed on the psychological comfort of 
warmth and cuddling security. But 
isn't this a retreat to the old myth of 
female sexuality as spiritual and 
nonbodily? 

In the past, discussion of sexuality 
has also centered on the sociological 
aspects of women's repression in a 
male-dominated culture. Critics have 
focused on social institutions that per- 



petuate a restricted definition of the 
female role. Certainly the feminist 
movement has done much to raise our 
awareness of our autonomy and to 
open opportunities for our indepen- 
dent action — economically, politically, 
and sexually. Yet many women still 
find themselves in a psychological 
bind. Intellectually we may under- 
stand the limitations society has placed 
on us and our need to overcome them. 
At the same time, in trying to live out a 
more independent identity, we find 
ourselves confronted by anxious guilt 
and ambivalence. Why do I continue 
to say "leave me alone," avoiding the 
issue of sexual arousal? 

The Mother-Daughter Relationship 

One way of looking at the contra- 
dictions and the ambivalence of female 
sexuality is to reexamine the close rela- 
tionship between mothers and daugh- 
ters. In talking with other women, I 
have found many similarities in the 
ways we deal with our mothers. Despite 
our greater economic independence 
and more autonomous lifestyles, many 
of us find ourselves reproducing the 
same patterns of passivity, guilt, and 
fear we criticize in our mothers. No 
matter how often or seldom we are in 
touch with our mothers, the underlying 
ties to her are still strong, and she con- 
tinues to exert an enormous impact on 
our lives. She was our first love and our 
first enemy. We still, in one way or 
another, do what she wants us to do, 
because we still need her love; at the 
same time we hate her, because we feel 
that she doesn't leave us alone. Talk- 
ing on the phone to my mother, I am 
both surprised and furious when she 
still, after so many years, can tell by 
the tone of my voice how I am feeling. 
"No, honestly, I am fine. I AM O.K.," 
I tell her, even though we both know 
that I am feeling pretty bad. I can't 
hide anything from her. 

What is important in this inter- 
action is that our mother was the first 
person with whom we had a relation- 




Mary Clare Powell. Anne's Dream I. Mary Clare 
Powell is a feminist artist living near Washing- 
ton, D.C., who works primarily with black and 
white photographs and words, juxtaposed in 
various forms — slides, exhibits, books. 



© 1981 Helle Thorning 



ship. She was responsible for reproduc- 
ing in us the same "qualities" that 
made her a mother and a woman. 

As things are, the mother must do 
what her mother did before her: teach 
the daughter to suppress parts of her- 
self in the service of getting a man. Not 
to provide a daughter with adequate 
heterosexual skills is to fail at mother- 
ing. Sexual desiring must be repressed, 
its direction channeled towards men, 
and its energy transformed from active 
seeking to passive receiving. We've all 
heard what good girls and ladies don't 
do.' 

But am I to blame my own per- 
sonal mother? No. The mother serves 
as the connection between infant and 
society. What we must understand is 







mm 







Mary Clare Powell. Anne's Dream II. 
4 



the particular relationship that holds 
in our society between mothers and 
daughters and how this interaction 
fosters female sexual ambivalence. 

The Mother-Child Symbiosis 

Let us first look at the general 
"ideal" pattern of the mother-child 
interaction in our society. Within the 
nuclear family the infant is completely 
dependent on the mother, both physi- 
cally and emotionally. Without the 
mother's love, attention, and nur- 
turance the infant cannot survive. 
Mother and child come to form an in- 
sulated unit, in which the mother satis- 
fies the infant's physical and psycho- 
logical needs, while the infant provides 
reciprocal gratification for the mother. 
This early interdependence has been 
called the mother-child symbiosis. 

At first the infant experiences a 
sense of omnipotence. When it cries, 
the mother for the most part actively 
fulfills its needs. Indeed, the mother's 
needs seem to coincide with those of 
the infant. The infant is presumed to 
have no sense of separateness from the 
mother, no concept of its own limits 
and boundaries. 

As the child matures, it becomes 
aware of when the mother is in the 
room and when she is not. Usually 
recognition of the mother's absence 
creates fear and insecurity for the 
child. Who will meet its needs? Now it 
is the mother who comes to be viewed 
as all-powerful. Since the child is still 
physically and emotionally dependent 
on her, she seems to determine its very 
existence. Various patterns of pleasing 
the mother and retaining her attention 
develop. The mother's own responsive- 
ness to the child is of course a key 
element in this interaction. 

The phase of symbiosis peaks at 
about four to five months. After this 
the normal child shows active signs of 
differentiating itself from the mother. 
The baby begins to explore its sur- 
roundings and is able to tolerate the 
mother's absence. This is the start of 
the long process of separation for the 
child, of the search for autonomy. But 
this process is problematic. And it may 
be here that we can see differences in 
girls' and boys' experiences of the early 
mother-child relationship. 

All children must free themselves 
from the image of the omnipotent 
mother in order to gain a sense of com- 
pleteness and autonomy. From the 
beginning, the boy is more likely to be 
treated as a heterosexual other by the 
mother, precisely because of his male- 
ness. The girl's experience differs on 



two counts. First of all, she doesn't 
have a penis, which offers the son a 
clear physical distinction from the 
mother and which, in our society, pro- 
vides him with a power symbol in op- 
position to the omnipotent mother. 
Equally important, however, is that 
the mother does not connect to the girl 
as a sexual other, as with the male 
child, but sees her daughter more as 
part of herself. She may well overiden- 
tify with her daughter and stifle the 
girl's sexual development to prevent 
signs of independence. A daughter 
may also reinvoke the mother's own 
fears of sexual inadequacy. The mother 
may be protecting her own sense of 
vulnerability by restricting the girl's 
space to develop sexually. Few mothers 
encourage a girl's play with her body, 
much less masturbation. The tendency 
has been to restrain sexual aggression 
in the girl and emphasize nice, respec- 
table behavior. We can see this as fit- 
ting in with the mother's image of her- 
self, which in its turn follows society's 
expectations. What seems important 
to underline, however, is that the girl's 
separation from the mother is compli- 
cated by the mother's intense identi- 
fication with her same-sex daughter. 
This kind of identification heightens 
ambivalence about separation and 
creates the psychological basis for an 
ongoing symbiosis between mother 
and daughter. 

Contradictions in Female Sexuality 

Marina Moeller Gamberoff points 
to some of the consequences of the in- 
tense early mother-daughter relation- 
ship. 2 She describes four women who, 
from an objective point of view, are 
economically independent, with re- 
sponsible jobs. Nevertheless, they feel 
insecure and afraid. They find them- 
selves constantly turning to their hus- 
bands or lovers for approval of every 
action they take. In some ways, Gam- 
beroff claims, they have re-created the 
same symbiosis with their men as they 
had with their mothers. One of these 
women explains that everything she 
does, no matter how creative, is only 
done to please her husband. She with- 
draws from any responsibility by hav- 
ing him make decisions for her, as if to 
prove that she is still a well-behaved 
child. Unconsciously, according to 
Gamberoff, this woman feels guilty for 
having broken away from her mother. 
Her husband now plays the role of her 
mother, from whom she must hide her 
autonomy because she is afraid that by 
showing her independence she will lose 
love. Here Gamberoff raises the ques- 



tion of whether a woman's love/hate 
relationship with a husband or lover 
isn't really a projection of ambivalent 
feelings around independence experi- 
enced in the early relationship with the 
mother. 

Another view on the impact of the 
early mother-daughter relationship is 
given in Maria Torok's article on "The 
Significance of Penis Envy in Wom- 
en." 3 In contrast to Freud's emphasis 
on women's wish for what they lack, 
Torok interprets penis envy as a dis- 
placement of the frustrations in the 
close tie to the mother. This interpre- 
tation is much more positive and con- 
structive. Penis envy, as Torok inter- 
prets it, is a symbol for another wish: 
women do not want to be men, as 
Freud claims, but to separate them- 
selves from the omnipotent mother 
and become whole and autonomous 
women. 

Both Gamberoff and Torok, as 
well as other "mother-daughter theo- 
rists," suggest a new dimension for 
discussion within the feminist move- 
ment. In addition to recognizing the 
sexist socialization processes that have 
influenced our fantasies, we need to 
address the sources of ambivalence 
that stem from within ourselves and 
our earliest interactions with our 
mothers. What we must now explore 
are the unconscious components that 
contribute to the ways we repress our- 
selves. 

One way to do this is to explore our 
sexual fantasies. Through fantasies 
and dreams, we can learn much about 
how we deal psychologically with our 
sexual needs and the ambivalence that 
stems from early experience with our 
mothers. In particular, I wish to look 
at the fear of acknowledging and tak- 
ing responsibility for pleasure, the fear 
of passion, and the need for intimacy. 
Although I will focus on heterosexual 
relationships, I hope my discussion will 
illustrate some underlying problems 
within all relationships. 

The Fear of Taking 
Responsibility for Pleasure 

"As he stood there with his arms 
around her she felt like this could only 
be a dream. She could hardly tell who 
she was and what she was doing. Then 
he kissed her. She felt completely over- 
whelmed by the feeling, almost en- 
chanted, and she kissed him. Her heart 
was beating and at this moment she 
felt like he could do everything to her 
without her being able to protest. " 

A story like this arouses me sexually. 
All the romantic rubbish which I intel- 



lectually dismiss still makes me wet 
and horny. I have always felt very em- 
barrassed about the fact that I liked 
reading these novels— even more em- 
barrassed when I was caught reading 
or buying them. But what is it that 
makes me react? Quite simply, it is the 
prince who comes and sweeps me away 
on his white horse, or it is the tough, 
macho guy who, with his rough hands 
and a mixture of tenderness and vio- 
lence, takes control over my body and 
absorbs me. The foreplay in the two 
scenes is different but the end result is 
the same. I am passive in the situation 
and disclaim all responsibility. I am 
powerless and dominated by the man. 
He fucks me so well that the only thing 
I can do is to beg him for more. In my 
fantasy the orgasm fills me up for a 
long time, leaving me trembling and 



crying with emotion. (I should empha- 
size that the man's reaction does not 
mean anything, except in the way that 
my body triggers his desire and drives 
him to fulfill all my wishes. The man is 
only an extra in my scene. ) 

Another common fantasy involves 
a visit to the gynecologist. I am lying 
there completely open, with his total 
concentration on my sex. He begins 
the examination. In my fantasy he is 
tender and very conscious of the way 
he touches me. Suddenly he can tell 
that lam reacting differently. He feels 
my juices, but he does not stop. He 
continues and somehow prolongs the 
examination; not a word is said. He 
inserts the instruments as I get wetter 
and wetter. He himself is getting 
aroused by looking at the "beautiful 
young woman" lying before htm. He 



BOOK OF LOVE 




Vanalync Green. The Book of Love. . .(1981). Based on a performance / Make Beds. 
Vanalyne Green, a multimedia performance artist, works by herself and collaboratively with 
Feminist Art Workers. She now lives in NYC. 



calls his colleague, and as the other 
doctor enters, he, in one glance, under- 
stands what is going to happen. Softly 
he says to me, "I think I better examine 
your breasts, " and he quickly removes 
my shirt. I am completely passive and 
the only thing I can do is to pretend 
that I don't have the vaguest idea of 
what's going on. And that's when it 
really begins. They are all over me, 
using every entrance and opening in 
my body. I can't move. I have given 
myself up to their hands. And then I 
have a huge orgasm— and that's the 
end of my fantasy. 

If we look at these fantasies they 
have quite a few things in common: 

1 . The feeling of lust is determined 
by the man. 

2. The woman restrains herself 
and allows the initiative to come from 
the man. 

3. The woman expects overwhelm- 
ing desire from the man and thus does 
not need to be active. 

4. The man takes control over her 
body with a mixture of violence and 
tenderness and "uses" her. 

5. The woman is in a state of help- 
lessness and powerlessness, dominated 
by the man. 

6. It is, however, her body that 
triggers his desire and her body that 
drives him to fulfill all her needs with- 
out her being active. 

7. Due to her passivity, she has all 
of her needs met by the man. 

These seven points might be seen as 
supporting the classical interpretation 
of female sexuality as inherently nar- 
cissistic and masochistic. But we can 
also attribute these features to a carry- 
over from the early relationship with 
the mother. In the process of matur- 




ing, the child has to discover its own 
needs and distinguish itself from its 
surroundings. This development takes 
place under the guidance of the moth- 
er. If the mother is unable to give her 
daughter love and space to mature, to 
separate and to be her own sexual be- 
ing, the girl may remain stuck in a 
symbiotic definition. As we saw before, 
she may end up searching for someone 
who can provide this, or she may re- 
gain the omnipotent partner through 
fantasies. 

Another aspect of the fantasies of 
dominance is that they create a situa- 
tion where the woman doesn't have to 
face the guilt of enjoying any form of 
pleasure. She can deny that she has 
any input into the situation; she can 
say: "I experience pleasure — yes — but 
it is against my will — I am not respon- 
sible for the things that happen." There 
is a feeling of omnipotence because she 
is having all of her needs met. As with 
the mother, the man's needs become 
secondary. 

The Fear of Letting Go 

One reason that women feel the 
need for fantasies is the fear of giving 
themselves up to passion. What would 
happen if we lost control of ourselves? 
Would we then lose our identity and 
be completely absorbed by the other 
person? 

Even in my relationship with the 
man I feel most secure with, I am un- 
able to give myself up to him and to 
passion. I am afraid of what would 
happen if I let go. I fear that I would 
disappear, that I would totally lose my 
identity. Twice I have had terrible 
experiences when my orgasm peaked. I 
was drunk and had lost some of my de- 
fenses. I felt myself falling down, into 
black darkness. And I cried and cried 
until I fell asleep. That's why during 
intercourse I hold onto myself and to 
my clitoris. I am in control of my body. 
I give myself only to the point where I 
can still control the penis in my rhythm. 

One of the most remarkable con- 
tradictions of female sexuality is illus- 
trated here — the wish to be totally en- 
closed by the man and the fear of giv- 
ing oneself up to him. There is both 
the fear of losing control and the fear 
of merging with another person and 
losing one's identity. This fear of losing 
one's identity may originate in the 
early symbiotic relationship with the 
mother. With all the ambivalence at- 
tached to breaking away from the 
mother, there may be a greater fear of 
reengulfment in that original oneness. 



The Need for Intimacy 

/ often think of my relationship to 
the man I live with, and what it is that 
makes me so dependent on him. This 
dependency stretches from a need for 
his confirmation of everything I do to 
an urge to know what he is doing every 
minute of the day. I feel the symbiosis 
keeps me from having independent 
experiences outside our relationship. 
All the time I need his approval: "Do 
you love me? Do you love me more 
than anything? Why do you love me?" 
Sometimes I think it is his personality 
that makes me so dependent. But no. I 
know from earlier relationships that I 
develop the same kind of dependence 
with any man. 

In talking to other women about 
dependency, I found we all voiced a 
strong need to be close to one person, 
to have a place that felt like being 
"home." A place where we could show 
many sides of our personality and let 
go of all the different masks. This need 
for undisturbed harmony resembles 
the early mother-child relationship. 
Yet, as we have seen, the wish to merge 
with another person has great fears at- 
tached to it. 

Closing Remarks 

In feminist circles there has been a 
tendency to focus on the sociological 
aspects of repression, leaving aside the 
inner conflicts. The contradictions in 
our psychological makeup must be 
confronted in order to understand our 
sexuality. Our self-repression, in seeing 
our sexuality as only tender and emo- 
tional, denying lust and the pleasure of 
penetration, is a barrier to experienc- 
ing ourselves as sexual beings. 

I find that the theories about early 
mother-child relations offer an excit- 
ing new perspective on female sexu- 
ality. Through a clearer understanding 
of the early determinants of our feel- 
ings toward sexuality, we will be better 
able to define what it is that will give 
us full sexual satisfaction. 

This article is based on a thesis by Talli Ungar 
Andersen, Vibe Stroer Larsen, and HelleThorn- 
ing (University of Copenhagen, 1980). 

1. Lucy Gilbert and Paula Webster, "Feminini- 
ty: The Sickness unto Death," presented at "The 
Second Sex Thirty Years Later" (New York Uni- 
versity, Sept. 27-29, 1979). 

2. Maria Moeller Gamberoff, "Emanzipation 
macht Angst," Kursbuch 47, Frauen (1977). 

3. Maria Torok, "The Significance of Penis Envy 
in Women," Female Sexuality, ed. Janine 
Chasseguet-Smirgel (Ann Arbor: University of 
Michigan Press, 1970). 

Helle Thorning, a psychology student from Den- 
mark, is now working in NYC at an East Harlem 
pre-school and the Women's Counseling Project. 



Nancy Huston 



The four feet of the parents in bed in the morning: yellow, 
hardened, repulsive skin, especially around the heels; twisted 
grimy toenails. Long members wallowing in the sheets. 
Strong odor of dried sweat, ashes, and sex. 

Immense bodies with outlandish organs. Breasts whose color 
doesn't match the rest. Tight wiry shocking hairs on the too- 
white chest and back of the father. Vast, soft expanses of 
skin. Scrapy contact with badly shaved maternal calves, 
rough touch of adult hands mussing my hair. I look at the 
monstrous thighs of these beings and compare them with my 
own: so thin, nothing but a straight line, the natural link 
between knees and hips. 

The bodies move, get up, and dress themselves with fright- 
ening mechanical movements and indecipherable prattling 
noises. Lipstick, glasses, razors, combs, ties, girdles, bras, 
applied or added to the surface of these bodies in order to 
transform them. Or better yet; to hide them. 

The paint dribbles cold on the nape of my neck and runs 
down the length of my backbone; I shiver. My brother wields 
the paintbrush with dexterity, drawing long, green lines 
from my shoulder blades to my armpits, from my buttocks to 
my neck. The thick liquid clots and cakes on my skin. My 
brother shouts with laughter as he sees my face become dis- 
torted by the oozing mask of paint. The paintbrush tick- 
les as it slides under my chin, titillates my nipples and my 
clit. 

It's my turn and I start with his stomach, then cover his penis 
and tiny balls with paint in a series of provocative swirls. 
With great hilarity we drop the brushes, plunge our hands 
into the can of paint, and slap them on each other's heads. 
Dripping and hysterical, we run to look at ourselves in the 
mirror: two Martians. 

In the empty bathtub we cling to one another and scream 
with pain. The turpentine sears our skin. The mother's 
movements are ungentle; she scrubs us with a nailbrush until 
the green has turned dark red. She grumbles and we weep. 

"Did you know you've got a piece of skin in there that's going 

to be broken one day?" 

"Where?" 

"At the end of the tunnel. Do you want me to prove it?" 

"How?" 

"I'll put one finger in the hole in front and one finger in the 

hole in back." 

"Okay, but be gentle." 

"Does that hurt?" 

"No, it's all right." 

"There, you see? My fingers are touching except that there's 

a kind of wall of skin between." 

"Really?" 

"Mommy said she's the boss around here." 
"Yeah, but Daddy's the manager." 

© 1981 Nancy Huston 



"What's a manager?" 
"The boss of the boss." 

One of my brother's friends doesn't have a little sister; he has 
never seen a girl's or woman's sex. Incredulous: "Not even 
your mother's?" "Never." I pull down my pants. "Look, you 
idiot. It's nothing to be afraid of." But he backs away 
(though without averting his eyes). I take my pants off the 
rest of the way and chase him around the room , thrusting my 
pelvis forward and spreading the lips of my vagina with my 
fingers. He yells and disappears. My brother and I collapse 
in helpless laughter. 

One day I go to verify the good condition of the father's 
organ. I pull at the elastic of his underpants to get a glimpse. 
I am told that I have grown too big for that. 

I know myself through touch and through my reflection in a 
pocket mirror. 

One morning, lying in bed next to the mother, my brother 
says to me, "Could I put my car in your garage?" The mother 
wakes up and says, "I heard you. Don't think I don't under- 
stand your dirty code." 

Henceforth, "dirty" will mean anything of value, anything 
worth seeking out. Each time we make a new friend, we will 
ask each other, "Do you think (s)he's dirty?" 

The empty bottle lying on the gravel describes one, two, 
three rapid circles, comes to a stop and points, designating 
with certainty and indifference. Sometimes we argue about 
which of us it has chosen, but usually there is no room for 
doubt. The garage is very cold. Shoes and stockings cannot 
be taken off first. Hesitation: the eyeglasses, of course, the 
hats and mittens, all the accouterments of winter with which 
we're only too happy to part. A skirt has already been re- 
moved, revealing a white slip and two bluish knees. A boy's 
torso has been denuded; it is covered with goosepimples and 
protected by two skinny arms, the freezing air serving as a 
pretext for modesty. 

The mother does my hair by separating it into two thick 
locks, brushing each of them until my scalp stings, and final- 
ly attaching them to my temples with a rubber band. My 
brother gets his hair cut by the father with an electric razor. 
He whines, horrified at the sight of the little heaps of himself 
lying on the floor. We recognize each other through caresses 
at the softness of our skin: the skin at the small of the back, 
the skin on the inside of the thighs. 

My brother has set fire to the garage. He has been whipped 
with the father's belt as I have never in my life been whipped. . 



Nancy Huston, active in the women's movement in France, has published 
two books: Jouer au papa et a Vamant (a study of paternity and pedophilia) 
and Dire et inierdire (on the functions of linguistic taboo). "Anatomies and 
Destinies (Fragments)" was originally published by the feminist monthly 
newspaper Histoires d'Elles. 



VINI 

I'd love to tell you how it feels. 

When it's riding you out to the sky, and your 
whole body is huddled in a point, and then it rockets 
away from you on waves. I guess something about 
the ocean says it best. The smell. The origin there. 
Conceived and then burst into a billion cells. I mean 
we have all been intimate with the deepest creative 
experience. We've all been born. 

I think people who are lost. That's what they're 
most lost from. And sex. Well that is one of the simp- 
lest and most thrilling ways to get it back again. 

Sometimes I think if I could make love once a week 
very awesomely, well that would really take care of 
it. But then when someone is around, I mean some- 
one I love, then I want to do it a lot more. And then I 
think it's mostly for affection. Then the coming part 
is different. It's a level that can be thoroughly satis- 
fying, but I don't have to have those stars. It's almost 
bureaucratic. If I don't need to come, I don't. Then 
there are some days when I wake up, and I know that 
at a certain second someone's going to touch me on 



Summer Brenner is theauthor of Everyone Came Dressed as Water arid 
From the Heart to the Center* "Vini" is from The Soft Room (Berkeley: 
The Figures, 1978). © 1978 Summer Brenner 



the shoulder, and I'm going to quake. It definitely 
gets easier. It never happened at all with my first 
lover. There are those degrees. Where it's a certain 
kind of thing that doesn't shake the sides. And then 
the one that grabs you so hard and takes you all the 
way there. I believe it's really the' easiest way to un- 
derstand the state of grace. And then when the lover 
begins to hoot and holler because he knows you've 
got it, then that's the best. I've only met a few men 
who could really gauge a wave. 

I decided I didn't care about making love with a lot 
of men because it takes so long to learn someone in 
that way. It always feels like such a big struggle, and 
then the best are always the ones you are going to 
love in manifold. 

I used to be so afraid of being sexy. Now it really 
tickles me. I like to get to the part where I can wear a 
slip. It still takes me a while to get down. And I really 
only can with someone I like a lot. But then it's like 
the dance. And there's the step you do for yourself. 
And the step you do for your lover. And the step for 
the audience too. That's a push-up on white porce- 
lain. 

I guess certain people like certain things. I knew one 
who would grab my hair just above the wedge and 
make like he was going to touch that in the triangle 
there. I loved the feeling of the tease. It wasn't tech- 
nique. He was learning to play an instrument well. 




Men say the biggest thrill is to make it good for a 
woman. I can see how they'd come to that. I'd really 
love to know what other people feel. 

Kissing is my favorite part. 

I like to stop before it all explodes. Just lying to- 
gether and breathing together. Connected by a stick 
and a hole. If I concentrate on what the space in my 
sex is holding, I can feel like I have a penis. We used 
to laugh that it was like being both sexes at the same 
time. And it is. 

Society definitely makes us shy. Women I mean. I 
bet those reports about women's sexual peaks at 30 
have to do with it actually taking a decade to over- 
come a certain kind of timidity. 

Last year I saw this man at a party. We weren't 
introduced but I found out his name. I thought about 
him passionately for three days. Then I called infor- 
mation and got his number. Called him up and cas- 
ually invited him to meet me, explaining about the 
party we had been at together the weekend before. I 
was practically throwing up. But it was so instructive 
to realize what the social dating procedure feels like. 
He was busy and disinterested. After the phone call, 
it lost its significance for me. Except for the fat under- 
standing of what men have to go through all the 
time. Meet a girl, make a date, get laid. It's terrifying. 
And obviously drives them to wanting to get a little 



25 



as some compensation for the uneasiness of the situ- 
ation. Consequently, a woman is expected to submis- 
sively ride alongside being sexually ignored and 
abused. 

Until hopefully one day. She sees a clean sheet on 
the line with dry air blowing through it, and she de- 
cides that's the way she wants to feel. 



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T4 "7.3.76 AGE2.6 



Once upon a time there was a baby 

an infant, a baby, a joy 

he sucked at his mother's breast 

his mother gave him suck 

his mother gave his sustenance 

her milk kept him alive 

her breast was all that he wanted 

food, nurturance, warmth 

his mother kept him alive 

his mother became his food 

his mother was his nurturance 

food, nurturance, warmth 

his mother, her breast, were his. 

He's never given it up 

his mother's milk is his 

her breast belongs to him 

he's turned her into a tit 

a jug a tit a boob 

a nipple in a tight sweater 

a titty a boob a bust 

she's a cunt a hole 

a dark deep hole a cave 

a pussy a snatch a slit 

a titty a boob a knocker a bust 

a beaver a twat 

a pussy a snatch a slit 

she's his 

her body belongs to him 

her cunt is his 

and her breast 

her thighs wrapped around his hips 

her pussy around his prick 

her titty in his mouth 

this baby, this infant, this boy 

has colonized her body 

this needy sucking babe 

has kept his mommy his food 

he eats her at his will. 








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SONDRA SEGAL (from the play Electra Speaks © 1980, Part III of 
The Daughters Cycle by Clare Coss, Sondra Segal, and Roberta Sklar) 



Nurtured by woman as food, he creates 

he creates his institutions 

religion family law 

philosophy education 

at night he sucks her titty 

by day he wreaks his vengeance 

this baby man hates his mommy 

what he does in the world 

is the proof 

this baby man hates his mommy 

his need his need his need 

he thinks she keeps him alive 

he fears that her breast is hers 

he dreads the sound of his whimper 

he hides in his mommy's body 

he suspects that she may know this 

he fears that she can see him 

he fears she knows that she feeds him. 

he reaches out for his mother 
lays his head against her breast 
wraps his arms around her body 
and yearns for her to caress him 



he plugs her, he slugs his mommy 

he says he'll fuck her blind 

he smashes her in the mouth 

he beats her black and blue 

he fucks the shit out of her 

he kicks her pregnant belly 

he throws her down the stairs 

he slugs her 

he hits her 

he beats her 

he hurts her 

he rapes her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he hates her 

he begs for her forgiveness 

he begs for her forgiveness 

why this baby, this boy, this baby man 



he is soothed by the sound of her heartbeat he's just a mass of contradictions 



and the salty taste of her body 

he wants to be inside her 

and reaches out for her body 

he yearns to be inside her 

he enters his mother's body 

he wants to be inside her 

he thrusts himself into her body 

he fucks her 

he fucks his mommy 

he'll show her 

he really will 

he fucks her, he rapes his mommy 

he rams it down her throat 

he rapes her, he hates his mommy 

he takes her in the ass 



claims reason for himself 
institutionalizes his hatred 
gives her his seat on the bus 
wages war on Indochina 
and nods off in front of the TV 
and dreams of mommy 
and dreams of power 

This baby will not grow up 

he thinks he can do what he wants 

he has fastened his mouth on my life. 

Sondra Segal, an artistic director of the Wom- 
en's Experimental Theater, is currently at work 
on a new play — Food. 
© 1981 Sondra Segal 



*A faghag is a woman, whether lesbian, bisexu- 
al, or heterosexual, who devotes an important 
part of her social, affectional, or sexual atten- 
tion specifically to homosexual men and who 
finds them erotically interesting because of their 
homosexuality. This attention need not be overt; 
it can take the form of fantasies. The word 
"faggot," like the word "dyke," is used by the 
author and by the interviewees in a revolution- 
ary and affirming, not a pejorative, sense. 



Camilla Decarnin 

Not much has been written on the phenomenon, or rather the set of phenomena, called farfiaeoW * One 
recent book, The New Couple: Women and Gay Men, deals with hetero- 
sexual women only. The women I interviewed included a high proportion of 
lesbians; all the women interviewed were feminists. As one of my inter- 
viewees pointed out, there is not a single faghag population. Faghagging is 
a complex subject with potential for a lot of research, as well as potential 
for overgeneralization and misunderstanding. 

Faghagging is not new and has appeared in some women's writing. 

Maureen Duffy, in The Microcosm, described a woman first becoming - =■ ~- r ■ 

aware of her lesbianism by feeling strong fascination for two men who were, it was explained to her, homosexuals 
In the well-known novels of Mary Renault and more recently in those of Patricia Nell Warren the faffhamnne 
element is exceptionally clear. The empathy for gay men that Elizabeth A. Lynn expresses in her science fiction 
novel A Different Light is well matched by her awareness of women's issues; this is not the case with all women 
who write sympathetically about gay men, and for some, like Warren, strong male identification is evident. 

This leads to the question of why some women are primarily attracted to gay men. I would suggest that 
women whose primary erotic objects are gay men have consciously or otherwise recognized men's valued position 
m society and desired to be valued as men are valued, while retaining a wish to be erotic with men. Their erotic 
response to faggots comprises an awareness of a situation in which the erotic object is both sexually and socially 
valued by other males -mother words, the woman recognizes in the faggot a socio-erotic position she herself would 
like to hold, as the recognized peer and the lover of a male, a position impossible for women in sexist culture to 
secure. I believe this is the basis for the eroticization of gay men by women. 



Do gay men in general attract you? 
More than straight men? Are gay 
men your primary turn-on, the one 
that works fastest and most reliably? 

Solo: A straight man can look good to 
me but. . .when I know a man is gay, 
when he's picked up some of the gay 
male cultural tricks and mannerisms, I 
don't know, it just turns me on. Not 
just any gay man, but a certain type is 
definitely the fastest turn-on. 

Lacey: Definitely more than straight 



Lee: Much more than straight men. 
Dykes are my primary turn-on. I'm a 
"gayhag," is what I am; I'm turned on 
to queerness. I think queers are gor- 
geous! 

Amalthea: I would be far more turned 
on by a woman I thought might be gay 
than by a gay man or straight man. I 
find it easier to get along with gay men 
than straight men . . . gay men are not 
going to view me as an actual or poten- 
tial sex object so I don't need to worry 

10 



or struggle with the person to define 
the relationship as nonsexual. Also, it 
seems some gay men I'd be more likely 
to relate to would have had to deal with 
machismo and would be more sensitive 
to that — I'm saying that as a generali- 
zation only. 

Michelle: During the time I lived with 
Dan (two years), I was deathly afraid 
that I was attracted only to gay men. 
... It never occurred to me then that I 
was simply inexperienced. I developed 
a theory of "safe" men and would say 
that I befriended married men, gay 
men, related men, far-away men so 
that I wouldn't have to hassle with sex. 
Then, too, my brother and I were ex- 
periencing an intensification and re- 
vival of our friendship, and I became 
involved in the circle of. friends he had 
developed . . . entirely made up of gay 
men, one lesbian, and a self-admitted 
faghag. [Since then] I have not been 
more attracted to gay men than I have 
been to straight men. . . .Gay men, as 
do all men, have learned that women 
can be used to listen to them, to sup- 



port them, to mother them through 
their emotional crises ... the friendship 
between gay man and straight woman 
becomes one that steadily drains ener- 
gy from the woman. I don't think I 
could ever again say I was a faghag. 

What was the first time you were at- 
tracted to a man you knew was gay? 
Were you friends? How old were 
you? Would you say you were in love, 
or had a crush on him? 

Solo: I was 21. ... I had been very 
turned on by the idea of gay male sex 
and love between men, in stories and 
so on, but I think Tommy was the first 
gay man I ever really got to talk to. We 
didn't become close, because I was very 
shy and awkward, especially with men, 
but I developed a crush on him. 

Lacey: When I was 17 and coming out 
as a lesbian, the boyfriend I had then 
told me he'd been having an affair 
with another boy. And we got into 
some fantasies about dressing him up 
as a girl, but we never did. My girl- 
friend that I was in love with at the 

©1981 Camilla Decarnin 



time — we both went after Stan; we 
would tease him a lot, we would fondle 
him and bite his ears and he would 
scream and roll around and say, "Stop, 
stop!" I had sex with him: we decided 
we were going to do it and we got in 
the car and drove, till we found a 
place. He was probably the most posi- 
tive fuck of all the men I had at that 
time. 

Lee: I guess my late teens — about 12 
to 15 years ago. We were friends and I 
didn't think of it at the time as a sexual 
attraction, just as affection. I see now 
there was an erotic component. 

Amalthea: I would have been about 
20 at the time. It was a close and sup- 
portive friendship. He was a bit young- 
er, about 19. 

Michelle: I was 21 years old. But I 
can't say I was attracted to him because 
I "knew" he was gay. He continually 
made references to a secret that he had 
never been able to discuss with anyone 
else and which had ruined several rela- 
tionships with other women for him. I 
wonder how I could have been so naive 
as to have missed all the obvious hints. 
Still my reasons for loving him suffered 
no change when Dan did tell me he 
was gay. I began to center my life 
around him. Later I bitterly com- 
mented that my journal had become a 
journal about him rather than about 
myself. Telling me that he was gay, 
coming out to me, seemed to me a 
great compliment and demonstration 
of trust. And I was even more attracted 
to him. We did eventually have sex. 
The first time, in fact, was on the night 
Dan finally broke down and told me 
that he was attracted to men. I had 
been wanting to have sex with him for 
more than a year and deathly afraid to 
instigate it. I was not very successfully 
repressing the fear that the platonic 
nature of our friendship was due to my 
physical inadequacies —not being 
beautiful, not being thin, not having 
had enough experience. We eventually 
decided to live with one another, and 
very quickly that arrangement became 
one in which we were not lovers, mere- 
ly housemates. Our relationship re- 
sembled in most other ways that of a 
"couple." We shopped together, we 
went out together, we entertained to- 
gether, we went on vacations together. 
We quarreled, we clung to one an- 
other. I continued to be frustrated that 
my sexual interest was not returned by 
Dan, but added the extra burden of 



guilt that I was somehow wrong for 
wanting that, or certainly for pressing 
for that. It became an extremely pain- 
ful thing to me that Dan was attracted 
to friends of mine — other men — and 
that he eventually developed a crush 
on my brother, who had been out of 
the closet for several years. 

Do you like gay men as people to be 
with? Why/ why not? What do you 
feel is different about the way you re- 
late to them and they to you, as op- 
posed to the way you relate to straight 
men? 

Solo: I'm not crazy about gay men in 
Real Life, more my fantasy of them. 
Men have to be pretty feminist for me 
to like them, and most faggots aren't. 
The main difference is that they give a 
woman more space, sexually, than a 
straight man will — that's important to 
me, not to have that predatory thing 
going on with someone I'm trying to 
talk to rationally as one human being 
to another. 

Lacey: Gay men don't have quite the 
same expectations that I'll take total 
care of them that straight men do. 
However, gay men are hard to be with 
because they're not feminists. Gay men 
are better sex than straight men — they 
know they don't know about women's 
bodies so they don't get freaked out 
usually if I want to masturbate. They 
are also much more willing to go down 
on me than straight men are, believe it 
or not. But they don't understand why 
your asshole isn't wide open every min- 
ute, they don't understand that at all 
[laughs], they expect it to just [makes a 
sucking sound]. I also like the experi- 
ence of fucking a man, of penetrating 
him, and gay men enjoy that. 

Lee: The nice thing about gay men is 
that they are more capable of respect- 
ing my own gayness. Taking my homo- 
sexuality as a background assumption 
makes it easier for me to do things that 
would appear to contradict it. I'm re- 
luctant to do those things if they are 
likely to be construed as evidence of 
heterosexuality on my part. 

Amalthea: As people to be with I like 
them often, not always. I do feel some- 
times the gay male culture is a closed 
society. I think things are said and done 
that are derogatory to women. In 1979 
I went to see a play . . . produced in a 
gay male leather bar. The only female 
character in the play was essentially an 
Anita Bryant character. So after the 



play was over someone invited the 
audience to make criticism and com- 
ments. One of the owners of the bar 
got up — in the play women were not 
welcome in the bar — and said, "You 
know, we really don't want women in 
here." One difference -I tend to trust 
gay men not to hurt me. If I had to 
walk through Buena Vista Park at 
night, I would far rather run into two 
gay men getting it on behind a bush 
than a straight man. My friendships 
tend to be with gay men, my contacts 
with straight men tend to be profes- 
sional—it can be cordial and respect- 
ful. Non-macho and warm character- 
istics are ones I like. 

Michelle: I will often trust a gay man 
more on first meeting. 

What is it about gay men that you 
think attracts you particularly? Are 
you actually interested in sex with 
them? 

Solo: I'm not that interested in sex 
with anyone, most of the time. But 
what I think turns me on is the idea of 
two men having an emotional relation- 
ship. It's like the only way I could 
imagine having an egalitarian rela- 
tionship with a man would be to be a 
man, and that idea, of relating equally 
to a man, was something that I wanted 
really badly for a long time. One thing 
that attracts me is the way they look — 
not so much now, in America, because 
the short hair and mustache thing 
bores me, but they do try to make 
themselves look good, which is usually 
ignored by men or comes out all in a 
physique thing rather than a pretty 
face or some really sensual way of 
dressing. 

Lacey: They're more masculine — I 
like masculinity in men and women — 
when it's not connected to privilege, 
when it's decorative. By masculinity I 
mean physical strength, aggressive 
personal style, independent personality 
and appearance, like, oh, beard, 
Levi's, leather. Another thing I like is 
drag— on men and women. I guess 
what it is is the ability to play with 
masculinity and femininity in a sexual 
context. 

Lee: Sometimes I am interested in 
actual sex with them. There are several 
llllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!'"""'-; 




Illiiii;::,.- 



11 



things that attract me about them. 
They tend to treat their bodies more as 
sexual objects and to present them- 
selves as fuckable. Secondly, their ideas 
of sex tend to be less rigid than those of 
straight men. Thirdly, I'm into S/M 
and I'm a bottom. Few straight male 
tops have attitudes about women in 
general which would make me feel in- 
clined to bottom for them. I would not 
want to get into a situation where my 
masochism would be interpreted as 
implying anything about women's 
proper place, ad nauseam. Whereas 
gay male S/M tends to have less anti- 
feminist baggage — I don't know if 
that's true, actually; it's true in terms 
of the actual sex, it's not true in terms 
of their other assumptions. For in- 
stance, a gay male top is going to know 
that many men are bottoms and isn't 
going to make an equation between 
men = top and women = bottom. The 
imagery that's common in gay male 
S/M culture, of boots and leather and 
motorcycles and studded belts, is at- 
tractive to me, whether it's displayed 
by women or by men. I find them, 
their culture, their imagery, and all of 
those accouterments quite beautiful. 
Lesbian culture tends to emphasize 
monogamy, fidelity, and thinking of 
sex as an artifact of love and marriage. 
I like promiscuity, group sex, casual 
sex, recreational sex. 

Michelle: I'd call the attribute one of 
sympathy, or perhaps, empathy. The 
ability to care and talk about emotion- 
al feelings is getting to be less of a rare 
thing for straight men, and it is a qual- 
ity that many gay men share and ac- 
tively seek to learn. Knowing the man 
is gay in no way prevents me from 
being attracted to and imagining hav- 
ing sex with him. I've simply become 



much more cautious with my actions. 

Have you had sex with gay men? Was 
it different from sex with straight 
men? How? Was it what you ex- 
pected? 

[Solo and Amalthea had never had sex 
with a gay man.] 

Lacey: I have a lot of different kinds of 
sex with gay men. One of the most fre- 
quent things I do is fistfucking them, a 
process that takes hours, lots of Crisco, 
and amyl. It's hot — I get some of my 
self-esteem as a woman back when 
some man is on his back and I've got 
my arm up to the elbow in his asshole 
— and it does him so much good . I also 
like to do S/M, either in a dominant or 
submissive role. More often dominant. 
Those are the faggots that I hang out 
with — the S/M men; they supported 
me when I was coming out in S/M. 

Lee: I was afraid that either I wouldn't 
like it at all and that the reality would 
be repulsive, although the fantasy was 
quite appealing, or that I would like it 
a whole lot and that maybe I wouldn't 
be a lesbian anymore. What happened 
was that I found it very enjoyable, but 
it didn't change my primary orienta- 
tion towards women. 

Michelle: Sex with gay men is not dif- 
ferent, as far as I can tell, from sex 
with straight men. . . . What is differ- 
ent is what happens afterward. . . . 
With a straight man, sex becomes 
easier. . .with a gay man, sex becomes 
more and more strained. . .more an 
expression of concession to the woman. 
No, I hadn't expected that. I had ex- 
pected sex (doesn't the American 
Dream say this?) would make Dan love 
me more. Talking with other women 
who have lived with gay men, I found 



similar descriptions of sexual relation- 
ships. 

What do you think of the term "fag- 
hag"? Do you describe yourself that 

way? 

Solo: I personally have always pre- 
ferred "fag" or "faggot" to other terms 
for gay men, even though I'm careful 
how I use them. So I tend to like "fag- 
hag" all right. It depends on who says 
it and why. Faghags are using the term 
when they come out, affirming it. 

Lacey: The first time I heard it was in 
a gay bar in Salt Lake City about 1972. 
This woman who was real made-up, 
very feminine, was sitting and laugh- 
ing and carrying on at a table of gay 
men and I asked my friend who had 
been gay 10 to 15 years, "Who's that 
woman; is she a lesbian?" My friend 
said real contemptuously, "She's not 
gay. She's a faghag." I think the term 
is usually used as an insult. I call my- 
self that, but it's wry. 

Lee: Sometimes I describe myself that 
way to be outrageous. Mostly I describe 
myself as a lesbian. It's a peculiar term. 
[Faghags] are not quite straight and 
they aren't gay — I'm thinking of the 
faghaggus classicus. So, like many 
phenomena that don't fit into clean 
categories, they cause a great deal of 
anxiety, and the term reflects that 
anxiety. There're a variety of inter- 
actions between women, both gay and 
straight, and gay men, for which there 
is only this one term of faghagging. As 
such it reduces a rich set of interac- 
tions to an ugly stereotype. As in- 
adequate as faghaggery is, as full of 
stereotypes and implicit putdowns, at 
least it's a word. While many gay men 
go ahead and have sex with women, 
there's no equivalent term or con- 







sciousness of it. Thus a gay man who 
has sex with a woman doesn't risk a 
pejorative label. The structure of the 
situation is such, therefore, that as 
usual women are at more of a disad- 
vantage than men. 

Amalthea: It does seem to be a male- 
identified term, identifying a woman 
in terms of the fact that she's close to 
gay men. I wouldn't want to start out 
with gay men as my first allegiance, so 
to speak. 

Michelle: I detest the word "faghag," 
even after being turned on to the word 
"hag" in Gyn/Ecology [Mary Daly] 
and having the political significance of 
"fag" explained to me. The word, 
when used by gay men, seems to me 
the equivalent of "the old lady," or a 
carnie's "mark." While Dan and I lived 
with one another, he used me some- 
times as a "cover" to those he preferred 
not to come out to; he used me as a 
housekeeper; and he used me emotion- 
ally. I cringe every time I see an ador- 
ing woman hanging on an obviously 
gay man who pays not much attention 
to her. 

Describe your ideal faggot. 

Solo: A feminist, not too tall, with 
long hair and loose morals. I like per- 
verse clothing; hippy-femme drag, 
leather, ragged jeans, anything just a 
bit off or swaggery and colorful. 
Clothes are really important to me; 
I'm rarely turned on by a bare bod. 

Lacey: One favorite is a very tall, slen- 
der, dark queen with real aristocratic 
features . . . Las Vegas showgirl type 
drag. The other one is older, mid-40's 
. . .very butch. . . . 



Lee: In leather, in boots, and domi- 
nant. 

Amalthea: The most ideal person I 
have known is Max. He's diminutive in 
an adorable way. I think it's beautiful; 
I like that size. His hair is dark; he has 
a beard. . .very warm, very friendly. 
My mother met him and told me how 
darling and adorable he was — our gut 
reactions were identical! There's a cer- 
tain maternal part of it. I've always felt 
very protective about him. He's always 
very encouraging, very feminist. 

Michelle: I can't really describe my 
"ideal faggot" any more than I can de- 
scribe my ideal lover. I really am rather 
repelled by the idea of drawing up a 
physical spec. . .1 might be able to 
draw up a list of ideal personality 
traits. . . . 

Have you ever wanted to be a faggot? 
If not actually to be one, have you 
ever taken the role of a gay man or 
boy in fantasies? How would you de- 
scribe the role? 

Solo: Since I was 19 or so I've fanta- 
sized about being a beautiful boy in 
either a loving or hating relationship 
with a man. I think that to try to trans- 
form that fantasy into reality, by a sex 
change or something, would be to lose 
a lot of things about being a woman — 
maybe even multiple orgasm, who 
knows, but social and political things — 
that I need. I am lazy enough that if I 
were a man, I might be a real pig. 
Being female keeps me honest. Even if 
I were a faggot, I'd find it real hard to 
deal with men's head trips. I wouldn't 
mind looking like a faggot, though. 

Lacey: I've wanted to be a faggot be- 
cause they have so much access to 



casual sex and kinky sex. In fantasy my 
partner or me, or both of us, can pre- 
tend to be gay men during a sexual 
encounter. Masturbation fantasies of- 
ten focus on gay men, usually on a 
younger man who's being overpowered 
by a group of older men — [wicked 
look] and taught how to take it. It's not 
really a rape, though, it's an initiation, 
a ritual. 

Lee: Well, as a matter of fact, actually, 
I have. . . . Part of my own gay identity 
is involved with some form of trans- 
sexuality. I have a complicated rela- 
tionship to my own gender, but a good 
portion of the time I feel more male 
than female. It's not a great distance 
to travel in fantasy from being a butch 
dyke to being a butch faggot. I'm also 
very turned on by anal sex; thus one of 
my favorite fantasies is to be a boy or a 
gay man captured, ravished, abused, 
and anally fucked by one or more gay 
motorcyclists. 

Amalthea: No, although we've ex- 
changed jests . . . sometimes gay men 
have said, "We're going to make you 
into a faggot before we're through," in 
a kidding way. 

What is your sexual orientation right 
now? (Lesbians: Do you see your fag- 
haggotry as connected to your com- 
ing out? How?) 

Solo: My sexual orientation is that I'm 
totally confused. No, actually, it just 
changes with every person I turn on to 
. . mostly queers of either sex. I like 
perversity; it's very positive to me. Any- 
thing that isn't what it's supposed to 
be, anything defiant. Back when I was 
being as lesbian as I could, faghaggotry 
was a factor in making being a dyke 




ItS&L 



feel tough and romantic ... I picked 
up the idea of being queer as revolu- 
tionary through my idea of faggots 
first. 

Lacey: About 90% of my partners are 
women, and my primary relationship 
is with a woman; however, the 10% of 
sex I have with men is an indispensable 
10% and I wouldn't be happy without 
it. I loved the gayness in men before I 
could accept my own homosexuality. 

Lee: My sexual orientation right now 
is lesbian sadomasochist with a strong 
latent interest in gay men and a weaker 
latent interest in boys, or say, youth. 
I'm probably a latent faggot. 

Amalthea: My sexuality gets expressed 
in a diffuse way — the assumption is 
that you have nonsexual interests in a 
faghag relationship. I'm a lesbian and 
a feminist but not a separatist. I feel 
closer to Sappho and Alice B. Toklas 
than to separatists, I think; I like flow- 
ing clothes and some of those more 
feminine elements. In music it's like 
the difference between a sixteenth- 
century madrigal and hard rock. 

Michelle: I consider myself heterosex- 
ual though I have had several abortive 
affairs with women. I was ashamed of 
myself when I recognized the same 
willingness to go along with the needs 
of these women [as appeared in] Dan's 
acquiescence to my desires. My curiosi- 
ty satisfied, I became less and less 
interested . . . and felt much at fault for 
having hurt them. I see these experi- 
ments in connection with. . .having 
lived in the gay world for several years. 

Does it bother you to be attracted to 
men who probably won't be deeply 



attracted to you? Has this caused 
problems before? 

Solo: That my most natural sexual re- 
sponses are toward men is a drag, con- 
sidering their attitudes toward women. 
That's one reason it doesn't really 
bother me that they don't turn on to 
me with great fervor. I used to want 
them to love me, but I don't think it 
ever caused me unbearable anguish. 
At least, I survived. 

Lacey: Yes. I'm always afraid I'm real- 
ly gonna fall in love with them. Casual 
sex with them can often be negotiated, 
but a romance would be a catastrophe. 

Lee: Because I'm not that deeply at- 
tracted to them, it's actually rather 
convenient. 

Amalthea: What does sometimes 
bother me is I may make a more in- 
tense emotional investment in gay men 
than they make in me. With that kind 
of asymmetry I can try to moderate it, 
try to make it a center for humor. 

Michelle: I feel that I am giving far 
more than is being offered in return, 
and however much I try to say it doesn't 
matter, I get to feeling bitter at the 
unfairness of the situation. I shudder 
to think how much this . . . might be in- 
tensified if I were monogamous by 
nature. 

What do you think is your basic atti- 
tude toward men in general? Do you 
have mixed feelings? 

Solo: That they are real spoiled, and 
that few of them are worth crossing the 
street for; but at the same time, even 
knowing what they are like inside, the 
way they look can turn my mind to 



putty. I guess that's mixed feelings. 

Lacey: I think men in general are real 
shits. They shouldn't be running the 
world. This makes my few moments of 
intimacy with men very precious. Men 
in general are the enemy. 

Lee: Most of them I don't like, most of 
them make me angry. In spite of this I 
have a few valued male friends and I 
don't think all men are horrible. 

Amalthea: I don't think of men as 
potential sexual connections. . . .When 
I have to deal with men I don't know, I 
can be very paranoid, not necessarily 
without basis. If I were walking down a 
street at night and saw a man of in- 
determinate sexuality, I would feel a 
bit intimidated; if I saw a woman I 
would feel quite safe; if I saw two gay 
men I would feel safer than if there 
were no one there. 

Michelle: I think they are a necessary 
evil in many ways. I'd have a lot of im- 
provements to suggest if I had the 
power to resocialize them-. I feel much 
sympathy for the main character in 
The Bleeding Heart who, intellectual- 
ly, would rather live alone, but to 
whom the emotional and sexual ties 
are addicting and never let one entirely 
let go of relationships with men. 

The generous, open responses of these wom- 
en have encouraged me to continue interview- 
ing. Any woman who might be interested should 
contact me at 512B Cole Street, San Francisco, 
CA94117. A complete version of this interview 
is available. Please enclose postage for three 
ounces. 

Camilla Decarnin writes science fiction and cri- 
ticism between temp jobs in San Francisco's fi- 
nancial district. She defines herself sexually as a 
radical feminist, practicing pervert, and dues- 
paying member of the Immoral Minority. 




hafetie gossett 



intro 



The following news story was buried under the headline "Another HoHum HEW Report" on a back page in a recent 
Saturday edition of a major newspaper. 

Washington, D. C. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued another of its interminable special 
reports today. This one purports that the "U.S. negro male population has been hit by an epidemic wave of im- 
potence. "According to the report "thousands have been repeatedly and unpredictably unmanned and researchers 
are at a loss to explain why. " An HEW spokesman declined to make any comment on the significance of the report 
or to disclose what plans, if any, are being made to bring relief to the epidemic's victims. No negro males could be 
reached for comment. 



are we on? are we rolling? we're roll- 
ing? ok. ok. where was i? oh. priceless 
fabric? ok. let's see. priceless fabric 
priceless fabric priceless fab. . . .ok. 
here we are. got it. the priceless fabric 
of civilized thought is in danger. . . that 
line? ok. ok. i'll start the line again, 
then go right on. 

the priceless fabric of civilized thought 
is in danger of being caught in a savage 
and monstrous grip and rent irrepar- 
ably asunder, our entire mode of living 
is imperiled, mortally imperiled, 
you see we have built the world's semi- 
nal thought and knowledge system — 
the rationale for western civilization, 
this system combines all scientific and 
philosophical knowledge into a single 
polyknowledge known formally as his- 
trosociopolecoanthropaterdickology. 
the informal name is poly/to/uni. in 
layman's terms what all these long 
words mean is "the beauty of nothing- 
ness." yes folks, those 4 little words 
summarize the sum total of western 
man's thought from the beginning of 
time, amazing isn't it? 
one of the basic premises of the theory 
behind the beauty of nothingness is the 
naturalness of conquered — eh-eh- 
ehmmm — excuse me can that word 
conquered be erased? you're sure? 
gosh! we don't want a lot of letters and 
calls and stuff do we. then we'd have to 
end up giving somebody equal time for 
rebuttal, let's use underdeveloped in- 
stead of conquered, sounds better, ok. 
ok. i'll start with one of the basic prem- 
ises, got it. 

one of the basic premises blah blah 
blah is the naturalness of underde- 
veloped groups particularly non-white 
groups, a group's degree of nothing - 

© 1981 hattie gossett 



take #1 

ness is measured by its distance from 
and lack of interest in the chaos and 
corruption of commerce and control, 
as you know the non- white underdevel- 
oped groups have been scientifically 
proven to come most close to embody- 
ing the principles of nothingness, see 
nothing hear nothing say nothing to- 
gether with that old favorite do noth- 
ing have long been their cardinal 
watchwords, add to this their unre- 
strained emotionalism their oneness 
with nature if you will, of course open 
free sexuality is key to this idea, 
in those branches of polyknowledge 
devoted to explaining and purging our 
guilt about monopolizing these people 
we discuss how we lost our sex/shit- 
ability in our quest for the impossible 
dream — the sun never setting on the 
empire don't cha know, and we con- 
gratulate these people on having main- 
tained their ability to perform both 
these marvelous functions at will, we 
have finally come to understand that 
as long as we do not deprive them of 
these two unspeakably delightful pleas- 
ures it is our god -given responsibility to 
maintain our hold — burdenless and 
guiltfree — on the more pressing mat- 
ters. 

i'm grossly oversimplifying and tele- 
scoping here but if you'll bear with me 
. . . eh — eh — ehmmmmm — in other 
words we have discovered measured 
and computerized the direct relation- 
ship between a group's governing abili- 
ty and its sex/shitability. now the more 
conservative elements in the polyknowl- 
edge community which let me say right 
now i have always condemned un- 
reservedly for their horrid and crude 
language and manners — these ele- 



ments posit that the question is simply 
one of eh — eh — ehmmmmmmmm — 
penis size, these polyknows have scien- 
tific proof that penis size increases in 
direct proportion to the diminishment 
of brain size, therefore peoples with 
large size penises tend to have smaller 
less efficient brains, the theory breaks 
down like this: the bigger the penis the 
greater its functioning powers, the 
greater the powers the more hours 
spent exercising them, the more hours 
spent in powers exercising the fewer 
hours spent in the pursuit of commerce 
and control, which is why even though 
we are a global minority we must do 
god's will and keep our finger firmly 
on the control button, firmly, burden- 
less, guiltfree. we are needed, without 
us everything would collapse, remem- 
ber we grew oranges in the desert and 
put a man on the moon, we are reason 
beauty light purity peace progress 
blahblahblah droannnnnnnnnnnnnn- 
nnnnnnn blahblahblahblahblahblah 
droannnnnnnnnn droannnnnnnnnnn- 
nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 
so you can see this matter is quite seri- 
ous, if the negroes are experiencing 
impotency — well then all our theories 
and practices are at stake, we'll have to 
hold a unipolyknowledge caucus and 
— that is — well i think i shouldn't make 
any further comment, the whole future 
of western civilization is at stake and 
. . .what?!!! cry?!!!! what the hell do you 
. . . the script says i should start crying 
here! are you all nuts! i'm not going on 
telestar all over the world crying like 
some damned silly fag! call in the writ- 
ers! call in the producer! why i'll . . . 



this piece is excerpted from a longer work. 



15 



take #6 

.o survive then what am i supposed J*, n L ^ h e T, n ° do ij *"""*" """ ' mUS ' "^ ** '" ° rd " 

<hat really ain't ruy Jok fcau deal S ™ ° h "u u" . hey *"""" be Ca " ed rm " M r " d V » be °™- 

them. eveWgotta do 5^^^ Tu^me^ " *~ ' $ """"^ *" ™ '° d °' ™" P°«" <° 

^^s^^^,^r?r r a whi r dude - the ■>» » - • -*■*« « «~ 

Clint eastwood in a ruggedsor, „ ^ way bu, i cTuldu^ - "° W * " def "' itel> ' ^ "° d ° Ubt ab ° ut *"• » » 

he is he's still white isn c he> ? ' ' mea " ' ^ ""' evm thi " k ab ° u < *«■ »° -"ler how fine 

™^z^xx ^id rSd^sr ' tn< ™ u s not nas,y nas,y - but it,s - ird - —"*«■ 

^-"h^atu^^^^^^ 



do you hear me! i said are you ready 
for this muthafucka! talkin bout our 
manhood, tryin to make us believe we 
are not the natural fuckin men we 
know we have always been and always 
will be. we know better though, i say 
we know better, hahaha. even his 
woman knows, hahaha. why you think 
she will lie and sneak and do anything 
to get next to us? we the joint! that's 
why. do you hear me? 
natural men. that's what we are. we 
don't need nobody's survey to tell us 
bout our bidness. what do they know? 
and who told them this stuff anyway? 
ever think about that? where did they 
get their information from? who 
talked? claiming they couldn't reach 
none of us for comment, now if you 
want to know what i think— some of 
those sick women of ours talked, you 
know the kind i mean, they too sick to 
see the natural beauty of themselves as 
our queens and servants, they want to 
be equal! that's what they say. i say 
they want to be men. and you know 
what we call those kind of women, 
hmmmmmmmmmph! do you hear 
me? 

yeah we know bout their perverted 
sickness, cuz no woman can do what a 
man does, period, she got no bidness 



take #5 

even talkin that stuff, and the correct 
women the together women they know 
this, they will even tell you the same 
thing, they like things the way they are 
and don't want to change, they know 
their place is behind their blackman 
giving him that good stuff he needs so 
he can come out here and keep his self- 
respect together, but these perverts 
don't want us to be men. they want to 
make us soft sissies like these white fags 
you see all over the place, then they 
can take over — them and the white 
fags — and run everything, but we 
know, like bro stokely said, their place 
is prone, prone to the bone is the way i 
say it. 

now we know that throughout history a 
woman has always been weak, and 
there's a good reason, god intended for 
her to be weak and us to be strong, for 
us to protect her. but these women 
won't let us be men. they want to do 
everything we do. why these women 
even go into gambling holes now and 
demand to shoot craps and play poker, 
and they win too. any gambler will tell 
you a woman is bad luck when you 
tryin to git money, her presence is neg- 
ative., she makes us so we can't concen- 
trate, asks too many questions, wants 
to know too much, do too much. 



now this woman is holding us back, 
and this is not anything new. we all 
know this, it goes back to slavery, these 
women cooperated with the slavemas- 
ter to keep us in bondage, they let him 
steal their precious honeypots from us 
and in return we got all these little 
lightskinned bastards that weakened 
the race/blood, and she would do this 
in return for little favors and things, to 
make it easier for herself and harder 
for us. just like now all these women 
marrying whitemen. dinah ross and all 
those sick women like her. they noth- 
ing but whores! scumbags! waterbug 
eggs! sewer drains! and they're taking 
jobs away from us now. yeah, you see 
'em driving trucks delivering mail and 
all kinda stuff. 

now the time has come my fellow bad- 
niggas for us to take some action, we've 
got to stop their conspiracy with the 
enemy, do you hear me? how? very 
simple, we got to use what we got to 
get what we want, now not only do we 
got the joint -we is the joint, and the 
joint can put these women in line, 
yeah! a good fuckin followed by an old 
fashioned asswhippin oughta straight- 
en these women right out. do you hear 
me? i said do you hear me? 



take #S 

£ rbS^^onSS^h^" T ^r bCtter CXplain ^ **»* behind - ~s. 
^utiSary y cSZ^?^ll a ^ U ' *"" * * ™ ^""T *™ t0 ~ * P-on or group has 

whites who have been involved^ the SL^XT " ^T " ^T^ ^^ the mT made b * m ™Y of *e 
16 the Wack Stm ^ Ie - especially we white women with black lovers or husbands. 



we romanticized black people especially black men to a dangerous degree, we were running from the reality we 
learned growing up middle class, white and female, the reality we correctly diagnosed as patriarchal, imperial- 
istic, authoritarian, anal, humorless, colorless, odorless, tasteless, boring and dangerous, patripower. the reality 
our white brothers are supposed to inherit from our fathers and we women are supposed to help perpetuate, in- 
stead of fighting it from our unique inside vantage point we ran to the people we saw as rebel/ victims thinking 
their purity would shelter us. because of course we thought we needed sheltering. 

we didn't see that the rebel/victims had absorbed patripower to such a degree they were actually reproducing it in 
each other and that this reproduction was undermining the very struggle we were determined to help build, we 
only saw their rebellious side, we didn't let ourselves see their other side, just like we only saw one side of ourselves 
— the rebellious side, we didn't see that we too had absorbed and were reproducing patripower. 
what was holding us back was our belief that strategywise it's most important to fight outside oppressive forces: 
imperialism and racism, the Vietnam war, etc. we saw the enemy as being outside of/removed from our pure 
selves, we ignored or denied our internal problems or said they'd be taken care of when "the most important strug- 
gle" had been won. but we could never get on with the "most important struggle" because this internal business 
was holding us back, we were embarked on an endless cycle of impotence. 

it was our involvement with other women — particularly poor black women — that led to our awareness of the im- 
portance of internal business, through our conversations with these women who suffer class and race as well as 
sexual domination we learned that all men not just middle class white men use women, children and homosexuals 
to bolster their failing sense of masculinity when they are denied the so-called male right of economic domi- 
nation. 

we found that the stronger we became in our understanding of women's oppression the more hostile the rebel/ 
victims became, as our understanding deepened our expectation of them and ourselves changed, we didn't want 
to be sheltered anymore, and when we stopped allowing the rebel/victims to display us as trophies in their war 
with our fathers for the rights to the patripower table we lost the rest of our already dwindling appeal, 
now what usually happened at this point was the rebel/ victims became sexually impotent, we were blamed, white 
women are frigid, they told us. (although they had not previously voiced any complaints in this area and although 
our sex drives remained constant.) suddenly these men saw they had made a serious mistake in becoming involved 
with white women, we couldn't meet their natural needs, they needed natural women who could restore their 
magical lost manpower and resurrect their frostily entombed manhood, white women move aside, we're going 
home to our roots, they proclaimed. 

but when we began meeting these natural women — because of course the men insisted we meet their newfound 
exemplary models of womanhood — we found them surprisingly shallow, they saw themselves as having a sacred 
mission to reclaim their lost brothers to blackness, but their concept of blackness didn't include encouraging their 
brothers to reject the male privilege aspects of patripower. our true black sisters helped us understand that the 
models of womanhood were aspiring to the very roles we were trying to outgrow and destroy, oreo cookies (wom- 
en's division) is the term our true black sisters used. 

finally we had all the pieces in place, the rebel/ victims were politically and sexually impotent because the aspects 
of their personalities and political philosophies that reflected the influence of patripower were holding back their 
development, as they saw patripower crumbling around them, as they saw their personal patripower trophies dar- 
ing to applaud the crumbling and even helping it along, they panicked. 

we are not surprised or alarmed by the HEW report, if anything it has not gone far enough in revealing the causes 
behind what it called the massive wave of impotence, but that's a job for black women, our group can only be of 
assistance in a secondary manner, however we are happy to provide that secondary assistance by answering your 
list of questions, if we can be of any further help please don't hesitate to call on us. 



take #"7 



let's come down to cases now. look, 
we've always let 'em think they was 
stronger than us and could fuck better, 
am i right? we let 'em think we are 
ashamed of being weak, am i right? 
that's how we got 'em into the cotton 
fields and rice fields and sugar cane 
fields and the mines and factories, 
chuckle, chuckle, chuckle, 
what's that? yeah, i realize i'm being 



very frank, so what if those softies in 
the executive suite are gonna blow a 
gasket? this is no time to be namby 
pamby. we're all white men here, am i 
right? 

well, but as i was saying this is a helli- 
fied situation we got on our hands right 
now. yissir. things could get right messy 
let me tell you. if they can't fuck they 
might start fightin. and this time it'll 



take more than a few well-placed 
"stray" bullets and a coupla poverty 
programs to calm 'em down, 
only thing i see for it is another war. 
yissir. a good ole juicy war. that'll take 
their minds off their dicks, if they wan- 
na fight give 'em somebody other than 
us to point their guns at. 
maybe we'll send 'em to south africa 
this time, you know as well as i do that 

17 



south africa is the last frontier, that 
setup is sweeter than georgia peach 
cobbler, plenty gold, diamonds, urani- 
um and plenty nigras to dig it all out 
the ground which means plenty profits 
for us. but now the nigras are striking 
and the nigra kids won't go to school, 
rioting and destroying property, guer- 
rilla attacks. 

what's that you said? speak up. maybe 
our nigras won't fight them south afri- 
can nigras? you mean because of that 
black identity stuff? listen here fella, 
let me tell you something, now you 
know i know how to handle 'em. been 
with 'em all my life, had me a bigmilk- 
titties mammy when i was a baby, now 
you listen to me. have i ever been 
wrong? they will do anything for mon- 
ey, anything, am i right? you guys 
thought they'd turn down the dope 



sellin deal didn't you. said they'd never 
sell dope to their own kids, but what 
happened? see i know 'em! i know 
'em! 

and haven't they gone everyplace else 
we sent 'em? they fought the red skins 
out west, themexes, the japs, thegooks 
in korea and Vietnam, and that black 
stuff has died out anyway, i read it in 
ebony, we'll get dandy andy and ben 
crooks and big daddy ringinthenose to 
go on tv to spearhead the enlistment 
drive, and that one in nuyark? used to 
be a militant? what's his name? helped 
us get a bunch of 'em together to go to 
angola? naw. we won't have any trou- 
ble, all we have to do is tell 'em their 
manhood is on the line and dangle a 
little money, then give 'em a coupla 
black generals, some pimpsuit uni- 
forms and we're home free, we'll call it 



the war to make africa safe for democ- 
racy, make it sound like a liberation 
war or something, chuckle, chuckle, 
chuckle. 

listen, i know 'em. they are revolution 
proof, well trained, tight pussy, loose 
shoes and a Cadillac really is all they 
want, boy minnus! that's his name! get 
him on the phone, you liberals are al- 
ways sweating, now you listen to me. 
have i ever been wrong? 
besides, we are the white hope for the 
world now. you see what's happened in 
europe. they started getting soft and 
next thing you know the commies are 
taking over, kidnapping, bombing, 
striking, they're looking to us to save 
the game, we gotta show 'em we can 
deliver, our manhood is at stake for 
crying out loud!!!!!!!!!!!!! 



take #10 

to tell you the truth it's been so long since i had some i really have to stop for a moment and think about what i 
think about what you are calling a national crisis. 

yeah, a long time ago i gave up counting on it or expecting it. gotta go through too many changes, men all want to 
reduce you to a lower (than them that is) common denominator, they gotta feel sorry for you or want to protect 
you or punish you or some weird shit like that in order to get it up. who wants to be bothered under those con- 
ditions? 

and then when i started trying to talk to him about it telling him my head wouldn't compute those old signals any- 
more i started noticing the signs, then i knew what was going to happen, and it did. well at first i got scared and 
copped out to the old script — letting him reduce me so he could be big. but you know— it wouldn't work, i 
couldn't be the Led. anymore, it was really funny cuz for a minute there i was in suspended animation, just 
hanging. 

but then i decided i didn't have to be a slave to these desires i'd been programmed to have and that i would just 
wait til the time came when he could deal with me in a cooler way. no. i don't hate him. in fact i really feel for 
him. he's got a big adjustment to make after all. and he's so unprepared. 

and then i thought about all the women who have had to do without it — sometimes for months and years at a time, 
what with wars, slavery, disease, jail, dope and whatnot, like in south africa. those sisters' case is much heavier 
than ours, their men have to go 100s of miles away from the bantustands where they are forced to live in order to 
find work, the government won't let the women go. they have to stay with their kids and old people on the bantu- 
stands which are even worse than the reservations the native americans are jammed up in over here, the men live 
at their jobs and they can only go home once or twice a year, they don't make no money so they hardly ever have 
any to send home to the bantustands. now what about those women? i mean that apartheid shit they have to deal 
with makes our shit look mild by comparison. 

so i looked at the south african sisters and i said if they can do it so can i. i've learned other ways of feeling close- 
ness, ways that aren't sexual and don't necessarily involve relating to men. ill tell you something, i was surprised 
when i realized how much of my needs i expected to be filled by one person through an extremely limited range of 
experiences, isn't that a trip? 

another advantage for me is that when he gets a hard time on his gig or something— you know his manhood is 
threatened? well now he'll have to find another way of dealing with that other than dragging some woman's ass 
across the floor and trying to fuck her through the mattress and box springs. 

and who knows? if you give him enough time without an ass to drag and pound he might even get it together that 
he ought to turn that hostility back on its real source, and if that happens — wow! watch out! 

hattie gossett. work herstory; babysitter asst playground attendant cook paid companion waitress secy cleaning person, "intro & 1 takes" and "yo daddy" are 
part of her own collection of writings titled presenting sister noblues & the original wild &free wimminsjazz & blues desert caravan & fish fry for which she 
is currently seeking an insightful and venturesome publisher. 



18 



-3- 



hatefcie gossett 



yo daddy 

yo daddys daddy 

his daddy 

his great granddaddys great great granddaddys daddy 

yo daddy look like death ridin radar waves 

yo daddy walk like a broke dick dog 

yo daddy dips snuff wears a bowler hat and walks pintoed 

with a cane 
yo daddys breath smell like chemical fallout and industrial 

waste and hes always up in somebodys face 
yo daddys uncles brotherinlaw is havin a middleage crisis 

and is makin a fool outta hisself over young girls and his 

wife got tired of his shit and put him out 
yo daddys daddys daddys daddy was the slave who stayed 

behind when everybody else escaped to freedom talkin 

bout i aint gonna leave ma massa cuz he been so good 

to me 
-2- 
the employer who wants to pinch my ass and pay me less 

money than he would a man? his daddy 
the wifebeaters daddy 
the rapists daddy 
the childmolesters daddy 
the socialworkers and judges who say lesbians aint fit 

mothers? their daddies 
the slumlords daddy 
the industrial polluters? their daddies 
the committee in charge of cutting back social services? their 

daddies 
the stepup nuclear power production committee? their 

daddies 
all the other bigtime capitalists daddies 
and their smalltime neocolonial overseers daddies too 
like the chastity belt daddy 
and the drawing & quartering bonebreaking burning at the 

stake daddy 
and the madonna on the cross in a crisscross daddy 
and the polygamy daddy 
and the cliterectomy daddy 
and the foot bindin daddy 
and the child bride daddy 
and the chador and veil daddy 



i dont haul no coal daddy 

i dont want nothin black but a cadillac daddy 

makin babies for the revolution he doesnt take care of daddy 

the womans position in the revolution is prone daddy 

speakin out about womens oppression in public but insistin 
on his patriarchal privileges in private daddy 

no foreplay daddy 

all technique and no feelins daddy 

yes i enjoy oral sex but i think cunnilingus is abhorent and 
repulsive daddy 

yeah i want some head and naw i aint gonna eat no pussy 
daddy 

no stayin power daddy 

if i give you some money and some coke can i watch you and 
your girlfriend freak off daddy 

do you want to tie me up and beat me daddy 

can i tie you up and beat you daddy 

no technique daddy 

no warmth sensitivity gentleness tenderness either daddy 

roll over and go to sleep daddy 

-4- 

if a woman is not a profit to me shes a pain in the ass daddy 

a woman is like a pipe you gotta break em in daddy 

a menstruating lactating woman cant touch food enter holy' 
places sleep in the house with or touch men daddy 

women are childlike sickly neurotic helpless incapable of 
serious thought son they will throw lye and cocacola on 
you while you sleep take yo money and make a fool outta 
you barbeque yo clothes slash yo tires put things in yo 
food bleed every month blow yo mind live longer than 
you daddy 

shes cute when shes mad daddy 

little girls should wear bouncy curls play passively with 
pinkpastyfaced dolls and with all their hearts and souls 
hope to die shonuff cross yo heart and open yo legs love 
their daddies daddy 
yo daddy 
my daddy 

all got little bitty peanut dicks 

if the 
n and 




corbett with help from the criplets 



i. 

i am a woman full of myself 
soft 
full 

powerful 

wanting 

often not getting 

i am a woman 
lesbian 
disabled 

"But what does that mean?" 
they ask with rounded eyes 
trying to steal a glimpse of my soul 

"What is your world like?" 
they imagine so many differences 
they do not believe the truth to be so 
simple 

"But how do they do it?" 
they always ask about the others 
the ones they see as more scary than i 
those with more equipment 
less movement 

you cannot hear when i tell you 
cannot speak, for the words stick in your 
mouth 

we are a family 
of women who are different 
yet so much the same 
(as you) 

II. 

the coming together 
melting of bodies 
woman to woman 

the words i know 

the feelings are mine 

but the pictures are all of you 

your not-different bodies 

we are the forgotten ones 
passed over 

"We won't be able to do things 
together." 

"She'll be too needy." 
"I won't know what to do." 

always the questions 
always the doubting 

so we whisper 

and they whisper 

we all wish it were easier 

we wish for lovers 
they for less guilt 

we try to say we're all the same 
hide under our same lesbian banners 



and for a while it works 
they like us, let us in 
but only to meetings 
seldom to bed 

they are afraid of us 
of our difference 

and when we find a lover 

we hide deeply in her 

she is our seal of acceptance 

we cherish her more than we wish to 

more than is good for us 

while we the family 

of women who are different 

who know .from our souls we are 

different 
try to love ourselves 
(anyway) 

we come together 

seeing ourselves in each other 

so little difference left 

we finally see the truth 

we are 
full 
strong 
beautiful 
women 

and they are afraid of us 



III. 

i am a woman full of myself 

full of love for my beautiful crippled 

body 
full of love for my disabled sisters 

i reject self-hatred 

i reject guilty doubting questions 

i reject all else except myself 

i am a woman full of myself 

i deserve to be loved 

so i love myself 

i deserve to be heard 

so i listen to myself 

i deserve to be seen and remembered 

i am a woman full of myself 
woman 
disabled 
lesbian 

i am complete 



corbett is a disabled woman from the San Fran- 
cisco Bay Area. 




Tee Corinne. Study for a Booh of Lesbian Erotic Images. Solarized photo. 
Tee Corinne is a photographer living in Brooklyn. 



20 



© 1981 corbett 



Sexual Courage in the 1950's 



For many years now I have been 
trying to figure out how to explain the 
special nature of butch-fem relation- 
ships to Lesbian-feminists who consider 
butch-fem a reproduction of hetero- 
sexual models. My own roots lie deep 
in the earth of this Lesbian custom, 
and what follows is one Lesbian's un- 
derstanding of her own experience. 

In the late 1950's I walked the 
streets looking so butch that straight 
teenagers called me a bull-dyke; how- 
ever, when I went to the Sea Colony (a 
working-class Lesbian bar in Green- 
wich Village, New York) looking for 
my friends and sometimes for a lover, I 
was a fern, a woman who loved and 
wanted to nurture the butch strength 
in other women. I am now 40 years 
old; although I have been a Lesbian 
for over 20 years and I embrace femi- 
nism as a world view, I can spot a 
butch 50 feet away and still feel the 
thrill of her power. Contrary to belief, 
this power is not bought at the expense 
of the fern's identity. Butch-fem rela- 
tionships, as I experienced them, were 
complex erotic statements, not phony 
heterosexual replicas. They were filled 
with a deeply Lesbian language of 
stance, dress, gesture, loving, courage, 
and autonomy. None of the butch 
women I was with, and this included a 
passing woman,' ever presented them- 
selves to me as men; they did announce 
themselves as tabooed women who 
were willing to identify their passion 
for other women by wearing clothes 
that symbolized the taking of responsi- 
bility. Part of this responsibility was 
sexual expertise. In the 1950's this 
courage to feel comfortable with arous- 
ing another woman became a political 
act. 

Butch-fem was an erotic partner- 
ship, serving both as a conspicuous 
flag of rebellion and as an intimate 
exploration of women's sexuality. It 
was not an accident that butch-fem 
couples suffered the most street abuse 
and provoked more assimilated or 
closeted Lesbians to plead with them 
not to be so obvious. An excerpt from 

© 1981 Joan Nestle 



a letter by Lorraine Hansberry, pub- 
lished in The Ladder 2 in 1957, shows 
the political implications of the butch- 
fem statement; it is a plea for discre- 
tion because, I think, of the erotic 
clarity of the butch-fem visual image. 

Someday I expect the "discreet" Les- 
bian will not turn her head on the 
streets at the sight of the "butch" strol- 
ling hand in hand with her friend in 
their trousers and definitive haircuts. 
But for the moment it still disturbs. It 
creates an impossible area for discus- 
sion with one's most enlightened (to 
use a hopeful term) heterosexual 
friends. 3 



loan Nestle 

does) because they made Lesbians cul- 
turally visible— a terrifying act for the 
1950's. Hansberry's language-the 
words "discreet" and "definitive" - is 
the key, for it speaks of what some 
wanted to keep hidden: that is, the 
clearly sexual implications of the two 
women together. The Ladder advo- 
cated "a mode of behavior and dress 
acceptable to society," and it was this 
policy Hansberry was praising. This 
desire for passing combined with the 
radical work of survival that The Lad- 
der was accomplishing was a paradox 
created by the America of the 1950's. 
The Ladder was bringing to the sur- 




Sir 



• 




Lesbian wall plaque (c. 1930) 

A critic of this essay has suggested 
that what was really the problem here 
was that "many other Lesbians at that 
time felt that the adoption of culturally 
defined roles by the butch-fem was not 
a true picture of the majority of Lesbi- 
ans; they found these socialized roles a 
limiting reality and therefore did not 
wish to have the butch-fem viewpoint 
applied or expressed as their own." 4 
My sense of the time says this was not 
the reason. The butch-fem couple em- 
barrassed other Lesbians (and still 



face years of pain, opening a door on 
an intensely private experience, giving 
a voice to an "obscene" population in a 
decade of McCarthy witch hunts. To 
survive meant to take a public stance 
of societal cleanliness, but in the pages 
of the journal itself all dimensions of 
Lesbian life were explored, including 
butch-fem relationships. The Ladder 
brought off a unique balancing act for 
the 1950's. It gave nourishment to a 
secret and subversive life while it flew a 
flag of assimilation. 

21 



It was not the rejection by our own 
that taught the most powerful lesson 
about sex, gender, and class that 
butch-fem represented, but the anger 
we provoked on the streets. Since at 
times ferns dressed similarly to their 
butch lovers, the aping of heterosexual 
roles was not visually apparent, yet the 
sight of us was enraging. My under- 
standing of why we angered straight 
spectators so is not that they saw us 
modeling ourselves after them, but just 
the opposite — that we were a symbol of 
women's erotic autonomy, a sexual ac- 
complishment that did not include 
them. The physical attacks were a 
direct attempt to break into this self- 
sufficient, erotic partnership. The 
most frequently shouted taunt was: 
"Which one of you is the man?" This 
was not a reflection of our Lesbian ex- 
perience as much as it was a testimony 
to the lack of erotic categories in 
straight culture. In the 1950's, when 
we walked in the Village holding 
hands, we knew we were courting vio- 
lence, but we also knew the political 
implications of how we were courting 
each other and we chose not to sacri- 
fice our need to heterosexual anger. 5 

The irony of social change has 
made a radical, sexual, political state- 
ment of the 1950's appear today as a 
reactionary, non-feminist experience. 
This is one reason why I feel I must 
write about the old times — not to ro- 
manticize butch-fem relationships but 
to salvage a period of Lesbian culture 
that I know to be important, a time 
that has been too easily dismissed as 
the decade of self-hatred. Two sum- 
mers ago in Kansas at the Women's 
Studies Association Conference, a slide 
show was presented to the Lesbian 
caucus in which a series of myths about 
Lesbians was entertainingly debunked. 
The show was to be used in straight 
sex-education classrooms and for com- 
munity organizations. One of the slides 
was a comic representation of the 
"myth" of butch-fem relationships, 
with the voice-over being something 
like: "In the past Lesbians copied 
heterosexual styles, calling themselves 
'butch' and 'fern' but they no longer do 
so." I waited until the end to make my 
statement, but I sat there feeling that 
we were so anxious to clean up our 
lives for heterosexual acceptance that 
we were ready to force our own people 
into a denial of some deep parts of our 
lives. I knew what a butch or fern 
woman would feel seeing this slide 
show, and I realized that the price for 
social or superficial feminist accept- 
22 



ance was too high. If we deny the sub- 
ject of butch-fem relationships, we 
deny the women who lived them and 
still do. 

Because of the complexity and 
authenticity of the butch-fem experi- 
ence, I think we must take another 
look at the term "role-playing," used 
primarily to summarize this way of lov- 
ing. I do not think the term serves a 
purpose either as a label for or as a 
description of the experience. As a 
fem, I did what was natural for me, 
what felt right. I did not learn a part; I 
perfected a way of loving. The artifi- 
cial labels stood waiting for us as we 
discovered our sexualities. We labeled 
ourselves as part of our cultural ritual, 
and the language reflected our time in 
history, but the words stood for com- 
plex sexual and emotional exchanges. 
Women who were new to the life and 
entered bars have reported that they 
were asked: "Well, what are you — 
butch or fem?" Many fled rather than 




answer the question. The real question 
behind this was: "Are you sexual?" and 
when one moved beyond the opening 
gambits, a whole range of sexuality 
was possible. Butch and fem covered a 
wide variety of erotic responses. We 
joked about being a butch fem or a 
femmy butch or feeling kiki (going 
both ways). We joked about reversal of 
expectations: "Get a butch home and 
she turns over on her back." We had a 
code language for a courageous erotic 
world for which many paid dearly. It is 
hard to re-create for the 1980's what 
Lesbian sexual play and display meant 
in the 1950's, but I think it is essential 



for Lesbian-feminists to understand 
without shame this part of their erotic 
heritage. I also think the erotic for us, 
as colonized people, is part of our social 
struggle to survive and change the 
world. 

A year ago some friends of mine 
were talking about their experiences in 
trying to explain butch-fem relation- 
ships to a women's studies class. Both 
had been gay since the 1950's and were 
active in the early gay liberation strug- 
gles. "I tried to explain the complex 
nature of butch sexuality, its balances 
of strength and delicacy," Madeline 
said. "The commitment to please each 
other was totally different from that in 
heterosexual relationships in which the 
woman existed to please the man." As 
she spoke, I realized that not only was 
there the erotic statement made by the 
two women together but there was and 
still is a butch sexuality and a fem 
sexuality, not a woman-acting-like-a- 
man or a woman-acting-like-a-woman 
sexuality but a developed, Lesbian, 
specific sexuality that has a historical 
setting and a cultural function. For in- 
stance, as a fem I enjoyed strong, fierce 
lovemaking; deep, strong givings and 
takings; erotic play challenges; calcu- 
lated teasings to call forth the butch- 
fem encounter. But the essential pleas- 
ure was that we were two women, not 
masqueraders. When a woman said, 
"Give it to me, baby!" as I strained to 
take more of her hand inside me, I 
never heard the voice of a man or of 
socially conditioned roles. I heard the 
call of a woman world-traveler, a brave 
woman, whose hands challenged every 
denial laid on a woman's life. 

For me, the erotic essence of the 
butch-fem relationship was the ex- 
ternal difference of women's textures 
and the bond of knowledgeable caring. 
I loved my lover for how she stood as 
well as for what she did. Dress was a 
part of it — the erotic signal of her hair 
at the nape of her neck, touching the 
shirt collar; how she held a cigarette; 
the symbolic pinky ring flashing as she 
waved her hand. I know this sounds 
superficial, but all these gestures were 
a style of self-presentation that made 
erotic competence a political statement 
in the 1950's. A deep partnership 
could be formed with as many shared 
tasks as there are now and with an 
encouragement of the style which made 
the woman I loved feel most comfort- 
able. In bed the erotic implications of 
the total relationship only became 
clearer. My hands and lips did what 
felt comfortable for me to do. I did not 



limit my sexual responses because I was 
a fem. I went down on my lovers to 
catch them in my mouth and to cele- 
brate their strength, their caring for 
me. Deeper than the sexual position- 
ing was the overwhelming love I felt 
for their courage, the bravery of their 
erotic independence. 

As a way of ignoring what butch- 
fem meant and means, feminism is 
often viewed as the validating starting 
point of healthy Lesbian culture. I be- 
lieve, however, that many Lesbians, 
pre-Stonewall, were feminists, but the 
primary way this feminism, this auton- 
omy of sexual and social identities, was 
expressed was precisely in the form of 
sexual adventuring that now appears 
so oppressive. If butch-fem represent- 
ed an erotically autonomous world, it 
also symbolized many other forms of 
independence. Most of the women I 
knew in the Sea Colony were working 
women who either had never married 
or who had left their husbands and 
were thus solely responsible for their 
own economic survival. Family con- 
nections had been severed or the fami- 
lies were poorer than the women them- 
selves. These were women who knew 
they were going to work for the rest of 
their Lesbian days to support them- 
selves and the home they chose to 
create. They were hairdressers, taxi 
drivers, telephone operators, who were 
also butch-fem women. Their femi- 
nism was not an articulated theory; it 
was a lived set of options based on 
erotic choices. 

We Lesbians from the 1950's made 
a mistake in the early 1970's: we al- 
lowed our lives to be trivialized and 
reinterpreted by feminists who did not 
share our culture. The slogan "Les- 
bianism is the practice and feminism is 
the theory" was a good rallying cry, 
but it cheated our herstory. The early 
writings need to be reexamined to see 
why so many of us dedicated ourselves 
to understanding the homophobia of 
straight feminists rather than to under- 
standing the life-realities of Lesbian 
women "who were not feminists" (an 
empty phrase which comes too easily to 
the lips). Why did we expect and need 
Lesbians of later generations and dif- 
fering backgrounds to call their strug- 
gle by our name? I am afraid of the 
answer, because I shared both worlds 
and know how respectable feminism 
made me feel — how less dirty, less ugly, 
less butch and fem. But the pain and 
anger at hearing so much of my past 
judged unacceptable have begun to 
surface. I believe that Lesbians are a 



people, that we live as all people do, 
affected by the economic and social 
forces of our times. As a people, we 
have always struggled to preserve our 
people's ways, the culture of women 
loving women. In some sense, Lesbians 
have always opposed the patriarchy; in 
the past, perhaps most when they 
looked most like men. This essay is not 
a full-grown analysis, but it is an at- 
tempt to shake up our prevailing judg- 
ments. We disowned our near past too 
quickly, and since it was a quiet past 
(the women in the Sea Colony did not 
write books), it would be easy not to 
hear it. Many women have said to me, 
"I could never have come out when 
you did." But I am a Lesbian of the 
1950's, and that world created me. I sit 
bemused at Lesbian conferences, won- 
dering at the academic course listings, 
and I know I would have been totally 
intimidated by the respectability of 
some parts of our current Lesbian 
world. When Monique Wittig said at 




the Modern Language Association 
Conference three years ago, "I am not 
a woman, I am a Lesbian," there was a 
sharp gasp from the audience. But the 
statement made sense to me. Of course 
I am a woman, but I belong to another 
geography as well and the two worlds 
are complicated and unique. 

The more I think of the implica- 
tions of the butch-fem world, the more 
I understand some of my discomfort 
with the customs of the late 1970's. 
Once, when the Lesbian Herstory Ar- 
chives presented its slide show of pre- 
1970 Lesbian images, I asked the 
women how many would feel comfort- 



able using the word "Lesbian" alone 
without the adjunct "feminism." I was 
curious about the power of the hyphen- 
ated word when so few women have an 
understanding of the Lesbian 1950's. 
Several of the women could not accept 
the word "Lesbian" alone, and yet it 
stood for women who did stand alone. 
I suggest that the word "Lesbian- 
feminist" is a butch-fem relationship 
(as it has been judged, not as it was), 
with "Lesbian" bearing the emotional 
weight the butch does in modern judg- 
ment and "feminist" becoming the 
emotional equivalent of the stereotyped 
fem, the image that can stand the light 
of day. Lesbianism was theory in a dif- 
ferent historical setting; we sat in bars 
and talked about our lives; we held 
hands in the streets and talked about 
the challenge of knowing what we were 
not permitted to do and how to go 
beyond that; we took on police harass- 
ment and became families for each 
other. Many of us were active in politi- 
cal-change struggles, fed by the energy 
of our hidden butch-fem Lesbian life, 
which even our most liberal left friends 
could not tolerate. Articulated femi- 
nism added another layer of analysis 
and understanding, a profound one, 
one that felt so good and made such 
wonderful allies that for me it was a 
gateway to another world — until I 
realized that I was saying "radical - 
feminist" when I could not say "Les- 
bian." 

My butch-fem days have gifted me 
with sensitivities I can never disown. 
They make me wonder why there is 
such a consuming interest in the butch- 
fem lives of upper-class women, usually 
more removed literary figures, while 
real-life, working butch and fem wom- 
en are seen as imitative and culturally 
backward. Vita Sackville-West, Jane 
Heap, Missy, Gertrude Stein, and 
Radclyff Hall are all Figures who shine 
with audacious self -presentation, and 
yet the reality of passing women, 
usually a working-class Lesbian's meth- 
od of survival, has provoked very little 
academic Lesbian-feminist interest. 
Grassroots Lesbian history research 
projects are changing this. The San 
Francisco Lesbian and Gay Men's His- 
tory Research Project has created a 
slide show entitled "Lesbian Masque- 
rade," which discusses passing women 
in San Francisco at the turn of the 
century. The Buffalo Lesbian Oral 
History Project (Madeline Davis, Avra 
Michelson, and Liz Kennedy) is focus- 
ing on the lives of pre-1970 working- 
class Lesbians. The Lesbian Herstory 

23 



Archives has a slide show in progress 
called "Lesbian Images Pre-1970." 
There are other groups in Boston, 
Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and 
New York attempting to be more in- 
clusive of the varieties of the Lesbian 
experience. 

Because I quickly got the message 
in my first Lesbian-feminist CR group 
that such topics as butch-fem relation- 
ships and the use of dildos were lower 
class, I was forced to understand that 
sexual style is a complicated mixture of 
class, history, and personal integrity. 
My butch-fem sensibility also incorpo- 
rates the wisdom of freaks. When we 
broke gender lines in the 1950's, we fell 
off the biologically charted maps. One 
day many years ago, as I was walking 
through Central Park, a group of 
cheerful straight people walked past 
me and said, "What shall we feed it?" 
The "it" has never left my conscious- 
ness. A butch woman in her Fifties 
reminisced the other day about when 
she was stoned in Washington Square 
Park for wearing men's clothes. These 
searing experiences of marginality be- 
cause of sexual style are crucial lessons. 
Butch-fem women made Lesbians 
visible in a terrifyingly clear way in a 
historical period when there was no 



movement protection for them. Their 
appearance spoke of erotic independ- 
ence, and they provoked rage and cen- 
sure both from their own community 
and straight society. Now it is time to 
stop judging and to begin asking ques- 
tions and to begin listening. Listening 
not only to words which may be the 
wrong ones for the 1980s, but also to 
gestures, sadnesses in the eyes, gleams 
of victories, movements of hands, 
stories told with self-dismissal yet stub- 
bornness. There is a silence among us, 
the voices of the 1950's, and this silence 
will continue until all of us are ready to 
listen. If we do, we may begin to un- 
derstand how our Lesbian people sur- 
vived and created an erotic heritage. 

It has taken me 40 years to write this. The fol- 
lowing women helped make it possible: Frances 
Taylor, Naomi Holoch, Eleanor Batchelder, 
Paula Grant, and Judith Schwarz, as well as the 
Heresies issue 12 collective; Paula Webster, who 
has said "do it" for years; and most deeply, 
Deborah Edel, my butchy Lesbian-feminist lover, 
who never thought I was a freak. 

1. The word "passing" is used here for Lesbians 
who look like men to the straight world. They 
wear men's clothes and work at men's jobs (e.g., 
driving taxis or clerking in stock rooms). Lan- 
guage, however, is inadequate here. Neither 
"passing" nor "transvestism" adequately explains 
the experience of the passing woman. Only she 
can. In other places I use "passing" to mean dis- 
guising a deep identity for societal acceptance. 



"Passing" in all its meanings is a central issue in 
Lesbian culture and deserves its own analysis. 
Michelle Cliff's Claiming an Identity They 
Taught Me to Despise (Persephone Press) is a 
beginning. 

2. The Ladder, pulbished from 1956 to 1972 
and edited by Gene Damon (Barbara Grier), was 
the most sustaining Lesbian cultural creation of 
this period. As a street fern living an unaccept- 
able social life, I desperately searched the lower- 
East-side newspaper stands for this small slim 
journal with a Lesbian on its cover. A complete 
set is now available at the Lesbian Herstory 
Archives. 

3. The Ladder, No. 1 (May 1957), p. 28. 

4. Letter from Sandy De Sando (August 1980). 

5. An article in Journal of Homosexuality (Sum- 
mer 1980), "Sexual Preference or Personal 
Styles? Why Lesbians Are Disliked" by Mary 
Riege Laner and Roy H. Laner, documented 
the anger and rejection of 511 straight college 
students toward Lesbians who were clearly de- 
fined as butch-fem. These results led the Laners 
to celebrate the withering away of butch-fem 
styles and to advocate androgeny as the safest 
road to heterosexual acceptance — a new plea for 
passing. This is the liberal voice turned con- 
servative, the frightened voice of the 1980's that 
warns Blacks not to be too Black, Jews not to be 
too Jewish, and Lesbians not to be too Lesbian. 
To me, this is the basis for a truly destructive 
kind of role-playing — a self-denial of natural 
style so the oppressor will not get angry. 



Joan Nestle is a founding member of the Lesbian 
Herstory Educational Foundation Inc. and the 
Lesbian Herstory Archives. She also teaches 
writing in the SEEK Program, Queens College, 
Flushing. 




Deb and Joan. Photo by Morgan Gwenwald, 1980. 
24 



WOMAN looking for same or different, 
Call day or evenings 

IS THERE SEX after publication? 
Send for expensive pamphlet. Felici- 
ty, Pennsylvania. General Delivery. 

MARCH ON THE CAMERA DISTRICT: 

Women against women against pho- 
tography against women. Call Nilon 
for information. 

COME UNDRESS your inequities. 
Join your sisters any night at the Vul- 
gar Vulva. E. 60's. Visit our new Les 
Mons room. 

LOST: Humor(young and foolish). Vi- 
cinity of Spring and Lafayette. Some- 
time in the last 2 years. REWARD. 

GWSJF, into EST, TM, TV, LSD, 
seeking M/F alphabetically compati- 
bld. EOE. Write PO. 

SEND for unique mashed potatoes 
recipe. $1 .00 Box 000, Spring Street 
Station, NY. 

SNIFF THIS X 

WANTED: A HAPPY ENDING. 

Leave message with operator. 

SEX THERAPY 
WHILE-U-WAIT 

Fairly licensed. 

Call out for information. 

VAGINO-AMERICAN pot-luck dinner. 
Each lodge member allowed one 
guest. Watch for details. 

"HOLD THE PENIS, hold the lettuce. 
Special orders don't upset us." Ex- 
clusively at your local Burger Queen. 




What does it mean to present a 
"realistic" view of female sexuality? 
Pieces that some women in the collec- 
tive considered realistic were seen as 
"negativistic" by others. On the other 
hand, pieces that the latter women 
termed "realistic" were considered "ro- 
mantic" by the others. While both 
groups were committed to presenting a 
realistic view, there was little agree- 
ment on what constituted it. 

Underlying this controversy was a 
more basic difference of opinion about 
what the magazine's mission was. Was 
it to describe and analyze the sexuality 
of some women today — sexuality that 
is not so pretty, not so uplifting, not 
always something to be proud of in this 
era of "liberation"? Or was it to display 
a feminist sexuality which some women 
are presumably creating for them- 
selves? (No one was so naive as to sug- 
gest that this new feminist sexuality 
was, by definition, lesbian sexuality or 
that the sexuality about which one 
might be embarrassed was, by defini- 
tion, sexuality with men.) 

We had many arguments about 
whether there is (or could be in this 
historical period) a feminist sexuality. 
If one can be a feminist at the office, 
in the political arena, over a cup of 
coffee with a friend, in therapy with a 
client, then why can't one be a feminist 
in bed? Some of us suggested that there 
was something intrinsically different 
about sex which might preclude it 
from being modified by the word 
"feminist." This something could be its 
privateness, its roots in infancy, its 
unique connection to repression. 

We never arrived at a definition of 
feminist sexuality. It is a question we 
hope you will consider as you read this 
issue. 



TO£^sa#-J! ^ ^^■^•Jk-Js-^^A-^^ 



To put out a magazine about fe- 
male sexuality and exclude Third 
World women's perspectives would 
have been a contradiction. As the only 
Black woman in our collective, I felt 
that I was fighting the shackles of rac- 
ism. There was a great deal of struggle 
within our collective to make sure that 
Third World pieces were included. 
Not only did I have to stick to my con- 
victions about including Third World 
pieces, I had to make sure that the 
content was not distorted by a non- 
Third World woman via editing. The 
Third World visuals were also a big 
concern of mine. Throughout the two 
years of working with this collective, I 
kept a very close connection with my 
Third World sisters to make sure that I 
did not become "whitized" but kept a 
feminist Third World perspective. 

Our backgrounds — political and 
sexual— shaped our views of the con- 
tents of this magazine. The Third 
World pieces are all political, tied to 
an international perspective of Third 
World women's struggles. Each piece, 
although the authors did not know 
each other, is connected in significant 
ways. My sisters validate my feelings, 
input, and perspective— just as it. 
should be. 



25 




THE CELIBACY LETTER 



icvu 



li 




Dear Women: 



September 1979 



I've been thinking a lot about writing an article for the sexuality issue, because I 
have a perspective that I am afraid otherwise won't be included in the issue. But I can't 
create enough order in my thoughts or imagine an article format that wouldn't distort 
the thoughts. So a letter will have to do. 

What I want to write about is celibacy as a viable sexual choice. Now, in my years 
of sexual activity, I would never have believed it if someone had told me that I would 
ever choose to be celibate for years. And yet, that has been one of the wisest, most self- 
affirming choices I have ever made. That decision (or rather, decisions, since I have made 
it again and again) has given me space to discover myself, to learn to love myself. I've 
developed a sense of my sexuality as a part of myself, rather than as a need that drives 
and consumes me, obliterating my self. 

Making love to myself, I've learned that much of the power to make me feel and ex- 
perience what I once gave to men (thinking they made me feel that way) in fact belongs 
to me, is a part of my own personal power— mine to own and exercise. Owning that 
power (which I don't think I ever could have done as long as I continued to relate sexu- 
ally to other people) has given me the strength to begin to own my life, to build a life and 
center apart from all the patriarchal madness. 

People ask me, "Don't you miss it? Don't you ever want a lover, someone's arms 
around you?" I can only answer that physical affection doesn't have to be restricted to 
sex, that I can hold and be held without "getting it on." Besides, one of the best things 
about long-term celibacy (say, more than six months) is that I don't get "horny" any- 
more. Of course, there are times when I feel sexual— then I can choose to masturbate or 
not— but I don't have that driven, gnawing need which can only be satisfied by another, 
often not available, person. When I have sexual dreams, I usually dream of my vibrator. 
People have a lot of trouble accepting or understanding this. 

In fact, the biggest problem with celibacy is the reaction to it. Most people just 
don't believe it. Straights (men and women) assume, almost invariably, that what I mean 
when I say I'm celibate is that I don't sleep with men but am sexually active with women 
(somehow, in this view, sleeping with women doesn't count). Lesbians and gay men as- 
sume it's just a closet act, that I have a sexual relationship with the woman I live with 
and am too repressed to admit it. When I finally get people to accept the reality of it, 
everyone assumes (1) that it's really sad that I'm celibate, (2) that it's something I want 
to change or at least ought to want to change, and (3) that whatever emotional problems 
and struggles I have are because I am sexually repressed. 

The heaviest social cost of celibacy, though, is that it keeps me on the fringes of the 
women's community. I consider myself woman-identified and woman-centered. If and 
when I choose to relate sexually to people again, it will almost certainly be with women. 
But I don't sleep with women now— I'm not waiting to get my courage up— I'm celibate. 
And passing as gay because it allows me to belong socially seems as wrong as passing 
for straight because it allows one to belong socially. If passing is wrong— as I believe it is 
—then it's wrong in all situations. But the condescension, pity, and pressure I usually 
meet in the lesbian community means that I don't feel accepted, and without acceptance 
there is no community for me. So, finally, I am lonely being celibate— not because I lack 
a lover but because women can't accept my choice and reality. 

I would never presume that another woman should choose celibacy. But feminists 
have much to gain, as individuals and as a group, from more recognition and acceptance 
of celibacy as an option. It has been a growth situation for me and for the other women 
I know who are celibate. Celibacy allowed me to refuse to give my sexual energy and 
support to men. It allowed me to grow strong and free within myself. And when/if I be- 
come involved in interpersonal sex again, it will be with a clear sense of freedom and 
choice. And with a clear sense of myself as a woman— free and strong and whole. And 
that's what it's all about, isn't it? 

Sandra M. Whisler 



© 1981 Sandra M. Whisler 



li 




r 



THE ( 



bL 



Dear Sandra, 



CY LETTEI 



r^D 



June 1980 



a*" 



We are very interested in publishing your letter; however, we had a few questions 
that we would like to see addressed in the piece since celibacy has not been well repre- 
sented in the material that we have received. Because we think it is an important issue 
and one which needs to be addressed fully , we would like to see some areas in your letter 
expanded. 

Your work stimulated a great deal of discussion among our collective members, gay 
and straight. All of us, at one time or another, have been celibate and have experienced 
the social pressure to define ourselves in terms of sexual object choice and activity. In 
light of our experiences and yours, we would like you to answer the following questions: 

1. In what ways does masturbation bring us closer to ourselves? 

2. Does all sexual interaction lead to obliteration of the self, and what is the nature 
and cause of this obliteration? 

3. In what ways can women retain their sense of self and have sexual pleasure with 
others? 

4. Why do our friends find celibacy so problematic? 

5. Have there been changes in your relationship to the women's community since 
you wrote this letter? 

6. Has your understanding of celibacy changed within the year? 

Your response can take the form of another letter if you like that idea. Perhaps we could 
publish our interchange as "correspondence." 

Yours, 
The Sexuality Issue 



THE CELIBACY LETTER! 



Dear Women: 



July 1980 




I'm glad to be a part of this discussion of celibacy in the sexuality issue. I will try to 
respond to your points one at a time, but I want to emphasize that I can only say how it 
is for me. 

1. How does masturbation bring me closer to myself? Some of these ways seem obvi- 
ous: by providing myself with a positive sexual experience, by claiming for myself my 
own sexual power, by using masturbation as an opportunity to love myself. In the ab- 
sence of the power plays and inequalities that can and often do happen in interpersonal 
sex, the act of giving myself orgasms becomes self-affirming and strengthening. 

A couple of years ago I noticed that while I masturbated I often thought about my 
problems—especially situations in which I felt I had less power than other people (e.g., 
work). At first I was freaked— was I so obsessed with my problems that I couldn't even 
stop thinking about them during sex? But it didn't feel like a negative process. Eventu- 
ally I realized that such thinking time is really productive— while masturbating, or in 
my dreams at night, I often find solutions that eluded me before, or new ways of looking 
at my problems. Somehow, when I masturbate, I am more in tune with my personal 
power; I identify more with my own woman strength. In this emotional geography, I can 
find a place of strength from which to operate in the troublesome situation. So mastur- 
bating is a way of providing a climate of self-love and affirmation, a place of strength 
and support for myself— an empowering act in my daily life. 



over. 




v. «. 



/", 



2- Does all sexual interaction lead to obliteration of the self? I don't know. It seems 
to me that orgasm involves a dissolution, or at least a blurring, of ego boundaries. In an 
interpersonal situation, that can lead to obliteration of the self— especially in a culture 
such as ours where we have all been so brainwashed by this romantic love garbage (two 
people merging into one self, being completed by one's true love, etc.). Given the me- 
chanics of penetration, I suspect that heterosexual sex has an inherent tendency, at 
least, to obliterate the female self. I suppose that in a situation in which power was bal- 
anced and both lovers were really centered in themselves and had a genuine respect for 
one another, it would be possible to have sex which was not destructive of either wom- 
an's self. Perhaps because I found heterosexual sex so damaging, a mutually affirming 
situation is hard for me to imagine. 

3- How can women retain their sense of self and have sexual pleasure with others? 
I don't know. If I did, I might be closer to ending my celibacy. Women who are maintain- 
ing their selfhood while active in interpersonal sex will have to answer this question. 

4. Why do our friends find celibacy so problematic? Why are people ever threatened 
by other people making different choices and having different lives? Somehow, we have 
ended up with a notion of obligatory sexuality that is as rigid as the Victorian notion of 
chastity. Our phallocentric culture defines interpersonal sex as a necessary aspect of 
healthy adult life, and most people— men and women— accept that judgment. Over the 
years, my close friends have come to accept my choice, and some of them can even see 
the virtues of it. But in a sexualized society like ours it's hard to convince people that 
celibacy is a healthy choice rather than a bad case of sexual prudery, repression, im- 
maturity, or just plain neurosis. 

In situations in the straight world in which there is no hope of people perceiving 
my celibacy as anything other than frustrated heterosexuality, I identify myself as a 
lesbian. But in situations in which there is some chance of women understanding where 
I am coming from, I try to be open about my choice, hoping to get women to think about 
celibacy. 

5. Has my relationship to the women's community changed? The distancing I ex- 
perience from many lesbians hasn't changed; I don't feel any more acceptable to gay 
women. But I'm more resigned— I've tailored my expectations to the reality of it. I see 
that part of the distance I feel comes from my own sense of alienation in reaction to the 
extreme expression of sexuality that I sometimes see at women's gatherings— a mode of 
acting and being that I perceive as being heavily based on the sexual objectification of 
other women. 

I've learned to find a sense of connection with the larger women's community in 
movement literature, just as I would if I lived in an area which was geographically 
remote from centers of feminist culture. Once in a while I find a feminist who can under- 
stand and empathize with my choice, even though she may not choose it for herself. So I 
don't have the sense of longing and alienation that I did a year ago. But I still feel sad 
that I can't make my real life embody the sense of belonging and participation that I feel 
when I read Adrienne Bich. 

6. Has my understanding of celibacy changed? I've become more aware of the price 
I pay for the space: celibacy does cut down on the physical affection I express and re- 
ceive. As my sole source of sexual sensation, celibacy does get a little bit monotonous 
(like any sexual malaise, this one comes mostly from my own laziness and lack of imagi- 
nation, I suspect). I occasionally find myself consciously attracted to another person. 

But at this point, after almost six years, I still find celibacy a nurturing and self- 
enhancing choice. I don't feel frustrated, or hemmed in, or confined by my celibacy, but 
rather nourished and strengthened. 

I feel a little bit nervous about publishing such a personal letter. But I still feel that 
it's important that celibacy be represented among the perspectives included in any dis- 
cussion of sexuality among women. I think women have much to gain by perceiving 
celibacy as a real option in their lives, whether or not they ever actually become celibate. 
I want to share with other women the sense of freedom, space, and growth that celibacy 
can offer. 



"«.. / 




Sandra M. Whisler 



Sandra Whisler is a fiber artist living and writing letters in Brooklyn. 




As two members of this collective, 
we hoped to work on an issue that by 
choice of materials attempted a dia- 
logue between women. We feel that 
this dialogue is imperative at this time. 
It would have encouraged further 
progress in working out our sexual and 
political problems — in a sense, moving 
the private to the public domain. 
Within this issue, however, what we 
confronted was a feminine perspective 
that justified itself in the bogeys of its 
past. Sexual scapegoats, be they Moth- 
er, Father, Lover, or Censorial Femi- 
nist, seem capable of binding us to an 
indelible cycle of guilt, denial, frustra- 
tion, and, finally, dismissal of the pos- 
sibilities within ourselves. It is as if we 
had never considered "the personal is 
political." Or as if that slogan were just 
another ill-starred hyperbole released 
during the sixties to float completely 
out of touch with the current of our 
lives. 



Yet, for the two of us, it was the 
affirmation of that slogan that brought 
us to work on issue #12. Although we 
came from different sexual orienta- 
tions, we were no less convinced that 
feminists had begun to dissolve the 
limitations of guilt and denial within 
themselves. Eliminating the crutches 
of hostility and anger, we looked to 
ourselves for our pleasure as well as 
pain. Thus, we recognized our power. 

For many women, feminism fused 
our thoughts and focused our energy. 
It gave us working and available 
choices where there had been none. 
We spoke out from our isolation and 
acted on our own behalf. It was this 
effort that encouraged personal and 
political change. We challenged and 
criticized the separateness we were told 
must exist — one that paired us against 
each other, good girl versus bad, 
straight versus gay, race against race, 
government against all. This throwing 



off of scapegoats was not without 
struggle (no simple adjustment of con- 
sciousness), but we realized that only 
we could determine the outcome of 
that struggle. It is this determination 
that is the crux of the argument for a 
feminist sexuality. 

As a small minority within the col- 
lective, we were interested in hearing 
from women who had made the trans- 
formation to a self-generated sexuality 
— in their struggle and their ultimate 
pleasure. We did hear from them. But, 
more often than not, they seemed too 
euphoric — perhaps out of touch with 
sexual realities— within the framework 
of this issue. Always there were the 
other voices. Ultimately, it is those 
other voices that prevail in this issue. 
Yet we are convinced that feminism 
springs from the possibilities of our 
imagination rather than a recapitula- 
tion of the historical. 




Nancy Fried. Susan and Nancy (1978). Dough and acrylic. 5" x 5". Photo Photo by Kay Kenny. Kay Kenny is an artist and photographer living in 
by Maria Karras. Nancy Fried is an artist living in NYC. New Rochelle. 



29 





/ hope you only do those things in leather bars. If I ever saw women doing S/M in a lesbian bar, it would make 

me so angry I'd want to beat them up. 

— Anonymous gratuitous comment 



Three years ago, I decided to stop 
ignoring my sexual fantasies. Since the 
age of two, I had been constructing a 
private world of dominance, submis- 
sion, punishment, and pain. Absti- 
nence, consciousness-raising, and ther- 
apy had not blighted the charm of 
these frightful reveries. I could not 
tolerate any more guilt, anxiety, or 
frustration, so I cautiously began to 
experiment with real sadomasochism. 
I did not lose my soul in the process. 
But in those three years, I lost a lover, 
several friends, a publisher, my apart- 
ment, and my good name because of 
the hostility and fear evoked by my 
openness about my true sexuality. 

Writing this article is painful be- 
cause it brings back the outrage and 
hurt I felt at being ostracized from the 
lesbian feminist community. I've been 
a feminist since I was 13 and a lesbian 
since I was 17. I didn't lose just a ghetto 
or a subculture — lesbian feminism was 
the matrix I used to become an adult. 
Fortunately for my sanity and happi- 
ness, I managed to construct a new 
social network. My friends and lovers 
are bisexual women (some of whom do 
S/M professionally), gay and bisexual 
men, and other outlaw lesbians. If I 
were isolated, I would not be strong 
enough to speak out about something 
that makes me this vulnerable. 

I describe my feelings about this 
issue because sadomasochism is usually 
dealt with in an abstract, self-righteous 
way by feminist theorists who believe it 
is the epitome of misogyny, sexism, and 
violence. In this article I shall examine 
sadomasochism in a theoretical way, 
and attempt a rapprochement between j 
feminism and S/M. But I am motivat- 
ed by my concern for the people who [ 
are frightened or ashamed of their 
erotic response to sadomasochistic fan- 
tasies. I don't want to hear any more j 
tragic stories from women who have 
repressed their own sexuality because 
they think that's the only politically I 

30 



acceptable way to deal with a yearning 
for helplessness or sexual control. I 
don't believe that any more than I 
believe homosexuals should be celibate 
so they can continue to be good Catho- 
lics. The women's movement has be- 
come a moralistic force, and it can 
contribute to the self-loathing and 
misery experienced by sexual minori- 
ties. Because sexual dissenters are al- 
ready being trampled on by monolith- 
ic, prudish institutions, I think it is 
time the women's movement started 
taking more radical positions on sexual 
issues. 

It is difficult to discuss sadomaso- 
chism in feminist terms because some 
of the slang S/M people use to talk 
about our sexuality has been appropri- 
ated by feminist propagandists. Terms 
like "roles," "masochism," "bondage," 
"dominance," and "submission" have 
become buzzwords. Their meanings in 
a feminist context differ sharply from 
their significance to S/M people. The 
discussion is rendered even more diffi- 
cult because feminist theorists do not 
do their homework on human sexuality 
before pronouncing judgment on a 
sexual variation. Like Victorian mis- 
sionaries in Polynesia, they insist on 
interpreting the sexual behavior of 
other people according to their ownj 
value systems. A perfect example of 
this is the "debate" over transsexuality. 
In its present form, feminism is not 
necessarily the best theoretical frame- 
work for understanding sexual devia- 
tion, just as unmodified Marxism is an 
inadequate system for analyzing the 
oppression of women. 



Since the label "feminist" has be- 
come debased coinage, let me explain 
why I call myself a feminist. I believe 
that the society I live in is a patriarchy, 
with power concentrated in the hands 
of men, and that this patriarchy ac- 
tively prevents women from becoming 
complete and independent human 
beings. Women are oppressed by being 
denied access to economic resources, 
political power, and control over their 
own reproduction. This oppression is 
managed by several institutions, chief- 
ly the family, religion, and the state. 
An essential part of the oppression of 
women is control over sexual ideology, 
mythology, and behavior. This social 
control affects the sexual nonconform- 
ist as well as the conformist. Because 
our training in conventional sexuality 
begins the minute we are born and 
because the penalties for rebellion are 
so high, no individual or group is com- 
pletely free from erotic tyranny. 

I am not a separatist. I believe that 
men can be committed to the destruc- 
tion of the patriarchy. After all, the 
rewards of male dominance are given 
only to men who perpetuate and co- 
operate with the system. I am not 
"woman-identified" — i.e., I do not 
believe that women have more insight, 




© 1981 PatCalifia 



intuition, virtue, identification with 
the earth, or love in their genes than 
men. Consequently, I cannot support 
everything women do, and I believe 
the women's movement could learn a 
lot from politicized or deviant men. 
On the other hand, I do not find it 
easy to work with men, partly because 
male feminist theory is pitifully under- 
developed. I do not think separatism is 
worthless or bankrupt. It can be useful 
as an organizing strategy and teaches 
women valuable survival skills. The 
taste of autonomy that separatism pro- 
vides is intoxicating, and can be a 
powerful incentive to struggle for real 
freedom . 

I think it is imperative that femi- 
nists dismantle the institutions that 
foster the exploitation and abuse of 
women. The family, conventional sex- 
uality, and gender are at the top of my 
hit list. These institutions control the 
emotional, intimate lives of every one 
of us, and they have done incalculable 
damage to women. I cannot imagine 
how such drastic change can be ac- 
complished without armed struggle, 
the appropriation and reallocation of 
wealth, and a change in the ownership 
of the means of production. When 
women are liberated, women will 



probably cease to exist, since our whole 
structure of sex and gender must 
undergo a complete transformation. 
The term "sadomasochism" has 
also been debased, primarily by the 
mass media, clinical psychology, and 
the anti -pornography movement. After 
all, homophobia is not the only form 
of sexual prejudice. Every minority 
sexual behavior has been mythologized 
and distorted. There is a paucity of 
accurate, explicit, nonjudgmental in- 
formation about sex in modern Ameri- 
ca. This is one way sexual behavior is 
controlled. If people don't know a par- 
ticular technique or lifestyle exists, 
they aren't likely to try it. If the only 
images they have of a certain sexual 
act are ugly, disgusting, or threaten- 
ing, they will either not engage in that 
act or be furtive about enjoying it. 

Since there is so much confusion 
about what S/M is, I want to describe 
my own sexual specialties and the sado- 
masochistic subculture. I am basically 
a sadist. About 10% of the time, I take 
the other role (bottom, slave, maso- 
chist). This makes me atypical, since 
the majority of women and men in- 
volved in S/M prefer to play bottom. I 
enjoy leathersex, bondage, various 
forms of erotic torture, flagellation 
(whipping), verbal humiliation, fist- 
fucking, and watersports (playing with 
enemas and piss). I do not enjoy oral 
jSg|j|p§ sex unless I am receiving it as a form of 
^wSSSSf sexual service, which means my part- 
!§§:l<KsSS ner must be on her knees, on her back, 
or at least in a collar. I have non-S/M 




close to. My primary relationship is 
with a woman who enjoys being my 
slave. We enjoy tricking with other 
people and telling each other the best 
parts afterward. 

Because sadomasochism is usually 
portrayed as a violent, dangerous ac- 
tivity, most people do not think there is 
a great deal of difference between a 
rapist and a bondage enthusiast. Sado- 
masochism is not a form of sexual as- 
sault. It is a consensual activity that 
involves polarized roles and intense 
sensations. An S/M scene is always 
preceded by a negotiation in which the 
top and bottom decide whether or not 
they will play, what activities are likely 
to occur, what activities will not occur, 
and about how long the scene will last. 
The bottom is usually given a "safe 
word" or "code action" she can use to 
stop the scene. This safe word allows 
the bottom to enjoy a fantasy that the 
scene is not consensual, and to protest 
verbally or resist physically without 
halting stimulation. 

The key word to understanding 
S/M is fantasy. The roles, dialogue, 
fetish costumes, and sexual activity are 
part of a drama or ritual. The partici- 
pants are enhancing their sexual pleas- 
ure, not damaging or imprisoning one 
another. A sadomasochist is well aware 
that a role adopted during a scene is 
not appropriate during other interac- 
tions and that a fantasy role is not the 
sum total of her being. 

S/M relationships are usually egali- 
tarian. Very few bottoms want a full- 
time mistress. In fact, the stubborn- 
ness and aggressiveness of the maso- 
§§j chist is a byword in the S/M communi- 
ty. Tops often make nervous jokes 
about being slaves to the whims of their 
^H bottoms. After all, the top's pleasure is 
dependent on the bottom's willingness 
to play. This gives most sadists a mild- 
to-severe case of performance anxiety. 

The S/M subculture is a theater in 
which sexual dramas can be acted out 



31 



T 



and appreciated. It also serves as a 
vehicle for passing on new fantasies, 
new equipment, warnings about police 
harassment, introductions to potential 
sex partners and friends, and safety 
information. Safety is a major concern 
of sadomasochists. A major part of the 
sadist's turn-on consists of deliberate- 
ly altering the emotional or physical 
state of the bottom. Even a minor acci- 
dent like a rope burn can upset the top 
enough to mar the scene. And, of 
course, a bottom can't relax and enjoy 
the sex if she doesn't completely trust 
her top. The S/M community makes 
some attempt to regulate itself by 
warning newcomers away from indi- 
viduals who are inconsiderate, insensi- 
tive, prone to playing when they are 
intoxicated, or unsafe for other reas- 
ons. The suppression of S/M isolates 
novice sadists and masochists from this 
body of information, which can make 
playing more rewarding and minimize 
danger. 

For some people, the fact that S/M 
is consensual makes it acceptable. 
They may not understand why people 
enjoy it, but they begin to see that S/M 
people are not inhumane monsters. 
For other people, including many fem- 
inists, the fact that it is consensual 
makes it even more appalling. A wom- 
an who deliberately seeks out a sexual 
situation in which she can be helpless is 
a traitor in their eyes. Hasn't the wom- 
en's movement been trying to persuade 
people for years that women are not 
naturally masochistic? 

Originally, this slogan meant that 
women do not create their own second- 
class status, do not enjoy it, and are 
the victims of socially constructed dis- 
crimination, not biology. A sexual 
masochist probably doesn't want to be 
raped, battered, discriminated against 
on her job , or kept down by the system . 
Her desire to act out a specific sexual 
fantasy is very different from the pseu- 
dopsychiatric dictum that a woman's 
world is bound "by housework, inter- 
course, and childbirth. 

Some feminists object to the de- 
scription of S/M as consensual. They 
believe that our society has conditioned 
all of us to accept inequities in power 
and hierarchical relationships. There- 
fore, S/M is simply a manifestation of 
the same system that dresses girls in 
pink and boys in blue, allows surplus 
value to accumulate in the coffers of 
capitalists and gives workers a mini- 
mum wage, and sends cops out to keep 
the disfranchised down. 

It is true, as I stated before, that 



society shapes sexuality. We can make 
any decision about our sexual behavior 
we like, but our imagination and abili- 
ty to carry out those decisions are lim- 
ited by the surrounding culture. But I 
do not believe that sadomasochism is 
the result of institutionalized injustice 
to a greater extent than heterosexual 
marriage, lesbian bars, or gay male 
bathhouses. The system is unjust be- 
cause it assigns privileges based on 
race, gender, and social class. During 
an S/M encounter, the participants 
select a particular role because it best 
expresses their sexual needs, how they 
feel about a particular partner, or 
which outfit is clean and ready to wear. 
The most significant reward for being 
a top or a bottom is sexual pleasure. If 
you don't like being a top or a bottom, 
you switch your keys. Try doing that 
with your biological sex or your race or 
your socioeconomic status. The S/M 
subculture is affected by sexism, rac- 
ism, and other fallout from the system, 
but the dynamic between a top and a 
bottom is quite different from the 
dynamic between men and women, 
whites and Blacks, or upper- and 
working-class people. The roles are 
acquired and used in very different 
ways. 

Some feminists still find S/M roles 
disturbing, because they believe they 
are derived from genuinely oppressive 
situations. They accuse sadomasochism 
of being fascistic because of the sym- 
bolism employed to create an S/M 
ambiance. And some S/M people do 
enjoy fantasies that are more elaborate 
than a simple structure of top versus 
bottom. An S/M scene can be played 
out using the personae of guard and 
prisoner, cop and suspect, Nazi and 
Jew, white and Black, straight man 
and queer, parent and child, priest 
and penitent, teacher and student, 
whore and client, etc. 

However, no symbol has a single 
meaning. Its meaning is derived from 
the context in which it is used. Not 
everyone who wears a swastika is a 
Nazi, not everyone who has a pair of 
handcuffs on his belt is a cop, and not 
everyone who wears a nun's habit is a 
Catholic. S/M is more a parody of the 




hidden sexual nature of fascism than it 
is a worship of or acquiescence to it. 
How many real Nazis, cops, priests, or 
teachers would be involved in a kinky 
sexual scene? It is also a mistake to 
assume that the historical oppressor is 
always the top in an S/M encounter. 
The child may be chastising the par- 
ent, the prisoner may have turned the 
tables on the cop, and the queer may 
be forcing the straight man to con- 
front his sexual response to other men. 
The dialogue in some S/M scenes may 
sound sexist or homophobic from the 
outside, but its real meaning is prob- 
ably neither. A top can call his bottom 
a cocksucker to give him an instruction 
(i.e., indicate that the top wants oral 
stimulation), encourage him to lose his 
inhibitions and perform an act he may 
be afraid of, or simply acknowledge 
shame and guilt and use it to enhance 
the sex act rather than prevent it. 

S/M eroticism focuses on whatever 
feelings or actions are forbidden, and 
searches for a way to obtain pleasure 
from the forbidden^ It is the quintes- 
sence of nonreproductive sex. Those 
feminists who accuse sadomasochists of 
mocking the oppressed by playing with 
dominance and submission forget that 
we are oppressed. We suffer police 
harassment, violence in the street, dis- 
crimination in housing and in employ- 
ment. We are not treated the way our 
system treats its collaborators and sup- 
porters. 

The issue of pain is probably as dif- 
ficult for feminists to understand as 
polarized roles. We tend to associate 
pain with illness or self-destruction. 
First of all, S/M does not necessarily 
involve pain. The exchange of power is 
more essential to S/M than intense 
sensation, punishment, or discipline. 
Second, pain is a subjective experience. 
Depending on the context, a certain 



32 




sensation may frighten you, make you 
angry, urge you on, or get you hot. 
People choose to endure pain or dis- 
comfort if the goal they are striving for 
makes it worthwhile. Long-distance 
runners are not generally thought of as 
sex perverts, nor is St. Theresa. The 
fact that masochism is disapproved of 
when stressful athletic activity and re- 
ligious martyrdom are not is an inter- 
esting example of the way sex is made 
a special case in our society. We seem 
to be incapable of using the same reas- 
on and compassion we apply to non- 
sexual issues to formulate our positions 
on sexual issues . 

S/M violates a taboo that preserves 
the mysticism of romantic sex. Any 
pain involved is deliberate. Aroused 
human beings do not see, smell, hear, 
taste, or perceive pain as acutely as the 
nonaroused individual. Lots of people 
find bruises or scratches the morning 
after an exhilarating session of love- 
making and can't remember exactly 
how or when they got them. The sensa- 
tions involved in S/M are not that dif- 
ferent. But we're supposed to fall into 
bed and do it with our eyes closed. 
Good, enthusiastic sex is supposed to 
happen automatically between people 
who love each other. If the sex is less 
than stunning, we tend to blame the 
quality of our partner's feelings for us. 
Planning a sexual encounter and using 
toys or equipment to produce specific 
feelings seems antithetical to romance. 

What looks painful to an observer 
is probably being perceived as pleas- 
ure, heat, pressure, or a mixture of all 
these by the masochist. A good top 
builds sensation slowly, alternates pain 
with pleasure, rewards endurance with 
more pleasure, and teaches the bottom 
to transcend her own limits. With 
enough preparation, care, and en- 
couragement, people are capable of 



doing wonderful things. There is a 
special pride which results from doing 
something unique and extraordinary 
for your lover. The sadomasochist has 
a passion for making use of the entire 
body, every nerve fiber, and every way- 
ward thought. 

Recently, I have heard feminists 
use the term "fetishistic" as an epithet 
and a synonym for "objectifying." 
Sadomasochists are often accused of 
substituting things for people, of lov- 
ing the leather or rubber or spike heels 
more than the person who is wearing, 
them. Objectification originally re- 
ferred to the use of images of stereo - 
typically feminine women to sell prod- 
ucts like automobiles and cigarettes. It 
also referred to the sexual harassment 
of women and the notion that we 
should be available to provide men 
with sexual gratification without re- 
ceiving pleasure in return and without 
the right to refuse to engage in sex. A 
concept which was originally used to 
attack the marketing campaigns of 
international corporations and the sex- 
ual repression of women is now being 
used to attack a sexual minority. 

Fetish costumes are worn privately 
or at S/M gatherings. They are as un- 
acceptable to employers and advertis- 
ing executives as a woman wearing 
overalls and smoking a cigar. Rather 
than being part of the sexual repres- 
sion of women, fetish costumes can 
provide the women who wear them 
with sexual pleasure and power. Even 
when a fetish costume exaggerates the 
masculine or feminine attributes of the 
wearer, it cannot properly be called 
sexist. Our society strives to make mas- 
culinity in men and femininity in wom- 
en appear natural and biologically de- 
termined. Fetish costumes violate this 
rule by being too theatrical and delib- 
erate. Since fetish costumes may also 
be used to transform the gender of the 
wearer, they are a further violation of 
sexist standards for sex-specific dress 
and conduct. 

The world is not divided into peo- 
ple who have sexual fetishes and people 
who don't. There is a continuum of re- 
sponse to certain objects, substances, 
and parts of the body. Very few people 



are able to enjoy sex with anyone, re- 
gardless of their appearance. Much 
fetishism probably passes as "normal" 
sexuality because the required cues are 
so common and easy to obtain that no 
one notices how necessary they are. 

Human sexuality is a complicated 
phenomenon. A cursory examination 
will not yield the entire significance of 
a sexual act. Fetishes have several 
qualities which make them erotically 
stimulating and unacceptable to the 
majority culture. Wearing leather, 
rubber, or a silk kimono distributes 
feeling over the entire skin. The iso- 
lated object may become a source of 
arousal. This challenges the identi- 
fication of sex with the genitals. Fet- 
ishes draw all the senses into the sex- 
ual experience, especially the sense 
of smell and touch. Since they are 
often anachronistic or draw attention 
to erogenous zones, fetish costumes 
cannot be worn on the street. Fetishes 
are reserved for sexual use only, yet 
they are drawn from realms not tradi- 
tionally associated with sexuality. Fet- 
ishism is the product of imagination 
and technology. 

Sadomasochism is also accused of 
being a hostile or angry kind of sex, as 
opposed to the gentle and loving kind 
of sex that feminists should strive for. 
The women's movement has become 
increasingly pro-romantic love in the 
last decade. Lesbians are especially 
prone to this sentimental trend. Rather 
than being critical of the idea that one 
can find enough fulfillment in a rela- 
tionship to justify one's existence, femi- 
nists are seeking membership in a per- 
fect, egalitarian couple. I question the 
value of this. 

There is no concrete evidence that 
the childhoods of sadomasochists con- 
tained any more corporal punishment, 
puritanism, or abuse than the child- 
hoods of other people. There is also no 
evidence that we secretly fear and hate 
our partners. S/M relationships vary 
from no relationship at all (the S/M is 
experienced during fantasy or mastur- 
bation) to casual sex with many part- 
ners to monogamous couples, and in- 
clude all shades in between. There are 
many different ways to express affec- 
tion or sexual interest. Vanilla people 
send flowers, poetry, or candy, or they 
exchange rings. S/M people do all 
that, and may also lick boots, wear a 
locked collar, or build their loved one 
a rack in the basement. There is little 
objective difference between a feminist 
who is offended by the fact that my 
lover kneels to me in public and sub- 

33 



urbanites calling the cops because the 
gay boys next door are sunbathing in 
the nude. My sexual semiotics differ 
from the mainstream. So what? I didn't 
join the feminist movement to live in- 
side a Hallmark greeting card. 

Is there a single controversial sexu- 
al issue that the women's movement 
has not reacted to with a conservative, 
feminine horror of the outrageous and 
the rebellious? A movement that start- 
ed out saying biology is not destiny is 
trashing transsexuals and celebrating 
women's "natural" connection to the 
earth and living things. A movement 
that spawned children's liberation is 
trashing boy-lovers and supporting the 
passage of draconian sex laws that as- 
sign heavier sentences for having sex 
with a minor than you'd get for armed 
robbery. A movement that developed 
an analysis of housework as unpaid 
labor and acknowledged that women 
usually trade sex for what they want 
because that's all they've got is joining 
the vice squad to get prostitutes off the 
street. A movement whose early litera- 
ture was often called obscene and 
banned from circulation is campaign- 
ing to get rid of pornography. The 
only sex perverts this movement stands 
behind are lesbian mothers, and I sus- 
pect that's because of the current 
propaganda about women being the 
nurturing, healing force that will save 
the world from destructive male energy. 
Lesbianism is being desexualized as 
fast as movement dykes can apply the 
whitewash. We are no longer demand- 
ing that feminist organizations ac- 
knowledge their lesbian membership. 
We are pretending that the words 
"feminist" and "woman" are synonyms 
for "lesbian." 

The anti-pornography movement 
is the best of the worst of the women's 
movement, and it must take responsi- 
bility for much of the bigotry circulat- 
ing in the feminist community. This 
movement has consistently refused to 
take strong public positions supporting 
sex education, consenting-adult legis- 
lation, the right to privacy, the de- 
criminalization of prostitution, chil- 
dren's and adolescents' rights to sexual 
information and freedom, and the First 
Amendment. It has encouraged vio- 
lence against sexual minorities, espe- 
cially sadomasochists, by slandering 
sexual deviation as violence against 
women. Their view of S/M is derived 
from one genre of commercial pornog- 
raphy (male-dominant and female- 
submissive) and makes Krafft-Ebing 
look like a liberal. 

34 



Commercial pornography distorts 
all forms of sexual behavior. There are 
several reasons for this. One is that it is 
designed to make money, not to edu- 
cate people or be aesthetically pleas- 
ing. The other is that it is quasi-legal, 
and thus must be produced as quickly 
and surreptitiously as possible. Anoth- 
er reason is that erotic material is 
intended to gratify fantasy, not serve as 
a model for actual behavior. 

S/M pornography can be divided 
into several types, each designed for a 
different segment of the S/M subcul- 
ture. Most of it represents women 
dominating and disciplining men, 
since the largest market for S/M porn 
is heterosexual submissive males. Very 
little S/M porn shows any actual physi- 
cal damage or even implies that dam- 
age is occurring. Most of it depicts 
bondage, or tops dressed in fetish cos- 
tumes and assuming threatening poses. 

Very little S/M porn is well pro- 
duced or informative. But eliminating 
it will have the effect of further im- 
poverishing S/M culture and isolating 
sadomasochists from one another, 
since many of us make contact via per- 
sonal ads carried in pornographic 
magazines. The excuse for banning 
"violent" porn is that this will end vio- 
lence against women. The causal con- 
nection is dubious. It is indisputably 
true that very few people who consume 
pornography ever assault or rape an- 

WHSm 




other person. When a rape or assault is 
committed, it usually occurs after some 
forethought and planning. But legally 
a free society must distinguish between 
the fantasy or thought of committing a 
crime and the actual crime. It is not a 
felony to fantasize committing an il- 
legal act, and it should not be, unless 
we want our morals regulated by the 
Brain Police. Banning S/M porn is the 
equivalent of making fantasy a crimi- 
nal act. Violence against women will 
not be reduced by increasing sexual re- 
pression. People desperately need bet- 
ter information about sex; more hu- 
manistic and attractive erotica; more 
readily available birth control, abor- 
tion, and sex therapy; and more mod- 
els for nontraditional, nonexploitative 
relationships. 

I am often asked if sadomasochism 
will survive the revolution. I think all 
the labels and categories we currently 
use to describe ourselves will change 
dramatically in the next 100 years, 
even if the revolution does not occur. 
My fantasy is that kinkiness and sexual 
variation will multiply, not disappear, 
if terrible penalties are no longer 
meted out for being sexually ad- 
venturous. 

There is an assumption behind the 
question that bothers me. The assump- 
tion that sadomasochists are part of the 
system rather than part of the rebellion 
has already been dealt with in this arti- 
cle. But there is another assumption — 
that we must enjoy being oppressed 
and mistreated. We like to wear uni- 
forms? Then we must get off on having 
cops bust up our bars. We like to play 
with whips and nipple clamps and hot 
wax? Then it must turn us on when 
gangs of kids hunt us down, harass and 
beat us. We're not really human. We're 
just a bunch of leather jackets and 
spike heels, a bunch of post office 
boxes at the bottom of sex ads. 

We make you uncomfortable, partly 
because we're different, partly because 
we're sexual, and partly because we're 
not so different. I'd like to know when 
you're going to quit blaming us, the 
victims of sexual repression, for the 
oppression of women. I'd like to know 
when you're going to quit objectify- 
ing us. 



"Vanilla is to S/M what straight is to gay. I don't 
use the term as a pejorative, but because I be- 
lieve sexual preferences are more like flavor 
preferences than like moral/political alliances. 

Pat Califia has been involved in the lesbian- 
feminist movement for 10 years. She has led 
workshops for lesbians on sex education and 
written Sapphistry, a lesbian sex manual. 







JERSEY SHORE WOMEN'S 

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35 




T 



I used to be a stripper. 

When I got my first job as an emer- 
gency economic measure, I'd never 
even seen one. I found I loved the 
work. I stayed with it for years, learned 
to do it well, made it my art and my 
profession. But I always wondered how 
it was that I had taken to it so easily, 
did it so well, found it so fulfilling. 
What did it say about me, when, as an 
avowed feminist, I was so involved in a 
quintessentially sexist business? Where 
were those things I did on stage coming 
from? In real life, my sexual overtures 
were covert, or verbal: my clothes, 
jeans and sneakers. I worried. Was I 
crazy, a repressed pervert, a closet 
glamour girl? I came to see, however, 
that my love of striptease had less to do 
with any personal kinks than with the 
distortion of female sexuality in our 
culture. 

It all began to make sense to me 
one night as I watched another strip- 
per perform. A big woman, with a 
stage presence that indicated dance 
and theater training— -I admired her 
style, the way she played to the audi- 
ence. She seemed bigger than life. I 
suddenly realized that what was at issue 
between us performers and the audi- 
ence was power. The men came, some 
of them, to suffer; their attitude was: 
"She is making me horny, but I'll never 
have her." To them, the show was ex- 
quisite frustration, the sexy woman on 
stage, a tormentor. The other group of 
men came to pull imaginary strings; 
they saw themselves as masters, think- 
ing: "I'm paying for this, she has to do 



those dirty things for me." In other 
words, some of the men fantasized 
themselves as passive, others as dom- 
inant. 

Later, I saw the situation as less 
clear-cut. Many of the men felt both 
ways at once, and some had less ex- 
treme feelings. Their specific configu- 
ration didn't matter to me or to any 
other stripper, so long as they paid at- 
tention. We wanted control. They 
wanted a sexual thrill with no personal 
effort, and yielded all responsibility to 
the woman on stage. The stripper was 
the single dynamic force in a room full 
of passive people. The male attitude 
was also a challenge: "Make me re- 
spond, make me feel something — I 
dare you." We were adversaries, worthy 
opponents in a sexual power game. 

The thrill I got from stripping was 
power. I was seen as powerful; more 
important, I felt powerful. Alive and 
free, I reveled in my body, my beauty, 
the dance, the drama, my own glorious 
energy. My whole being was totally en- 
gaged; I was radiant. The connection 
between repression of overt sexuality 
and male-dominated societies has 
been made elsewhere. I think our cul- 
ture discourages simple freedom of 
movement even more than sexuality. 
How many places can you go to exer- 
cise anything but your mouth without 
being labeled odd? As a stripper, I was 
getting a taste of what it would be like 
to be a woman in a society that honors 
the animal vitality in us all, instead of 
despising it. 

I was not getting to feel so good for 



free. I paid in the usual currency — 
sexuality. What keeps women from 
moving, glowing, being like that in or- 
dinary life is precisely that whatever we 
do will be seen as sexual. It is infuriat- 
ing, demoralizing. It is different for a 
stripper. She is being sexy on purpose, 
the initiator, not the victim. Not walk- 
ing down the street hunched over lest 
some man think she wears her sweater 
for his delectation, but thrusting bare 
breasts under his very nose. 

And he can't touch her. The strip- 
per is inviolable. That stage is hassle- 
free. For one thing, there is a boundary 
between any performer and audience 
that few dare cross. For another, the 
man watching striptease thinks that 
any response from him is a point for 
the opposition. The stripper is trying 
to make him respond; to show he is 
moved is to openly grant her power. 
The game has silly, sexist rules, but a 
woman can win it. We are taught to 
fear the sexual arousal of men. When 
a stripper's show is going well, the air is 
thick, charged with sexuality, and she 
is in total control. 

This pleasant feeling of immunity 
is close to contempt. As in the fantasy 
of the passive man, the stripper takes 
pleasure in being a tormentor. While I 
think all of us strippers felt some dis- 
dain for men, the only women I ever 
heard admit to feeling that pleasure 
were the gay women. 

Ordinary restrictions on women's 
behavior did not apply on that stage. 
And there was the flaw: it was such 
relative power. If we were free in the 




:/! 




36 



© 1981 SephWeene 




real world, the stage freedom would 
not matter. I thought I was crazy be- 
cause both the conventional, male- 
dominated outlook and feminist doc- 
trine defined what I did as bad. I was 
having forbidden fun. I knew that the 
joyousness, the pride in my body and 
its abilities, was good. In order to claim 
the feminine power for my own, I gave 
it a name: feminissima. 

The word was also a way to own my 
aggression. The warrior-woman, using 
sexuality as a weapon, is a masculinist 
construct, the true counterpart of the 
macho male. Feminissima may have 
been a tongue-in-cheek word for me at 
first, but I saw it was a positive way to 
describe an aggressive female stance, 
one that implied power in femaleness 
rather than in imitation maleness. 

It also meant reclaiming pride in 
being physically feminine, in using 
female body language and the arts of 
ornamentation. No stripper works 
directly from her sexuality; that is, she 
does not try to simulate how she looks 
and feels making love. Stage sexuality 
is a highly technical matter. My work 
made me very conscious of what goes 
into the commercial image of female 
sexuality, and so let me see my natural 
sexuality more clearly. 

I realized that I knew how to be 
sexy on stage because, like all women, 
I had been trained as a girl in sexual 
body language. Knowing just what 
gestures, what facial expressions, move- 
ments, and postures excited men was 
part of my woman's heritage. Becom- 
ing fully conscious of it put me in con- 



trol of it. I could choose when and how 
to use sexual body language. It was 
good to know this, to respect our vast 
and ancient knowledge, usually labeled 
as "instinct." And, if I had missed out 
on those lessons in competition the 
boys got, at least I was getting some 
use from my training. But of course it 
was a low-status job, another aspect of 
the systematic downgrading of women's 
work. 

Strippers exaggerate women's nor- 
mal gestures, and likewise they take 
sexy dressing to absurd extremes that 
reveal a lot about what female sexuali- 
ty has meant in male-dominated soci- 
ety. Looking "sexy" can be reduced to 
four major elements: hard, soft, not-a- 
woman, and rich. 

The hard look emphasizes the con- 
trast between sharp lines and the 
curves and fullness of a woman's body. 
Garter belts, corsets, sheath dresses, 
choker necklines are all part of this 
look. It's all associated with woman as 
sexually aggressive or dominant —-the 
vamp, the mistress — but the key ele- 
ment is constraint. It is as if the notion 
of sexual woman were so overwhelm- 
ing that she had to be visibly bound. 

The soft look plays on straightfor- 
ward powerlessness. Fluffy, flowy, flut- 
tery clothing communicates that the 
wearer is ever so soft, pliant, and nur- 
turing. 

The basic idea of not-a-woman is 
distancing: the stripper looks sexy be- 
cause she makes herself look like some- 
thing other than a regular woman, the 
kind that insists on being treated like a 



real person. Exotic outfits, outer-space 
costumes, animal get-ups, and other 
novelty looks, as well as male drag and 
little-girl clothes, all fall into this 
category. 

The rich look is both a category of 
sexy dressing and the basis of all the 
others. Flashy jewelry, lush textures, 
sparkling surfaces, intricate designs, 
and ingenious combinations mark all 
strippers' outfits. Strippers are para- 
gons of conspicuous consumption. 
These elaborate outfits simulate for- 
mal aristocratic evening attire. Classy, 
that is, subtly upper-class, costumes, 
and Las Vegas Baroque outfits have 
the same message — rich is sexy; women 
are display items. 

Analyzing these images was impor- 
tant for me because it let me enjoy 
them without feeling perverse or get- 
ting trapped. I almost succumbed to 
the phony sexuality for a while. I found 
myself putting on makeup on my day 
off, for instance, because my face no 
longer looked real to me without it. 
Once I was able to see what all the 
glamour meant and began to codify 
my feminine knowledge, I could do all 
the stripper-things and remain myself. 
I could delight in my virtuosity, my 
great feminissima. 

For me, the most dramatic part of 
reclaiming my sexual image was con- 
fronting how men see women. Until I 
became a stripper, I had managed to 
ignore that central concept of the mas- 
culinist world view, the concept of 
woman as a "piece of ass." I learned 
how deep this idea went, not from any 




1 



37 



febrile audience reaction, but from tne 
coolly objective statements of people in 
the business, such as: "We could get 
you a better booking if you had red 
hair, honey," or "You look real good 
on stage — wouldn't think so, seeing 
you in your regular clothes." They 
blatantly appraised me as a commer- 
cial item. According to their rules, my 
sexuality was a product. It was a harsh 
realization, but liberating. I knew the 
mind of my enemy. And I knew that, 
since this dehumanizing view of wom- 
en was so central to our culture, that it 
had been in my mind, too. I became 
conscious of that part of me that saw 
myself as less than human, and began 
to resist the self-hatred that has crip- 
pled women for so long. 

I'm still stuggling. I could integrate 
and absorb all the cultural constructs 
of femininity into the positive concept 
of feminissima, but I could not throw 
all the garbage away forever. 

Meanwhile, being a stripper was 
having a bad effect on my sexuality. 
For one thing, faking it was getting to 
me. Under cover of my stage persona, 
I could be avidly, aggressively sexual 
and feel powerful, but I also felt divid- 
ed. I was disowning my sexuality, since 
I took no responsibility for the con- 
sequences of my acts. Making a prod- 



uct of sexuality caused further self- 
alienation: I was watching myself too 
much. Knowing how to be sexy, and 
just how sexy I was, made for narcissism. 

I felt a lot of sexual frustration, 
too. I felt no direct sexual sensations 
on stage, but spending so much time in 
a sex-charged atmosphere, being the 
source of the energy, I was often in a 
state of sexual tension. The job is, 
however, very isolating socially: either 
I was in a strange town or full of energy 
when all my friends were asleep. Un- 
intentionally celibate most of the time, 
I was all too likely to leap at whatever 
sexual opportunities presented them- 
selves. 

My relationships with men were 
complicated by anger. Men were my 
adversaries in a power game, as I was 
theirs. Playing the role of sex object to 
the hilt, I let myself feel how bad the 
situation between men and women was 
for the first time. I felt powerful, but 
also angry and cynical. 

My love of being a stripper out- 
weighed the negative aspects. At the 
beginning of this essay, I described the 
powerful feeling of dynamic female 
sexuality I experienced on stage. Some- 
times, the experience became some- 
thing more. 

Everything I did would suddenly 



become perfect and effortless. The 
audience seemed to hang on my every 
movement. I would feel energy flowing 
through me to them, feel their energy 
come into me. I felt bigger than life, 
but did not so much feel it myself as 
feel them feeling it. Time seemed froz- 
en and stretched — an eternal now. It 
was a kind of altered consciousness, a 
state of ecstasy. 

What was happening, I think, was 
that I became a conduit for elemental 
female power. This state would not 
last long; it would seldom happen 
when I tried for it. It was a mystery, 
the Goddess becoming manifest. 

It was ironic, but strangely appro- 
priate, that she chose the very bastion 
of male domination in which to ap- 
pear. The strip club is about the only 
shrine left to her in our world. It is one 
of the few places in which woman's 
power and sexuality are adored. It is 
not a fitting place. We need to be able 
to experience that ecstasy in other 
places, to set ourselves free. 

Scph Weene lives in San Francisco and just re- 
cently started writing nonaction. 



Coreen Simpson. The Stripper (1979). Coreen 
Simpson is a NYC-based freelance photograph- 
er. This photo is from her series Nitebirds. 






The work in this magazine encour- 
ages us to reflect on our individual and 
collective relationship to our desires 
for pleasure, our desires for and of the 
flesh As women, we are more than 
curious to know how these desires are 
constructed, manifested, and acted 
upon. Because our sexuality and our 
own analysis of it have been so priva- 
tized and trivialized, our need to speak 
of our experience is urgently felt. We 
are grateful to the women who have 
chosen to challenge the feminine con- 
dition of muteness and to speak pub- 
licly about their sexual situations. In 
order to imagine a sexual practice that 
is satisfying and exhilarating, we can 
use these women's writings to articu- 
late our own silence and to push the 
project for women's erotic self-defini- 
tion beyond the narrow confines as- 
signed to us by our conditioning to 
femininity. 

Taken together, this work forces us 
to examine our assumptions about the 
nature of female sexuality and its ap- 
parent authenticity. In mapping the 
tortuous territory of culture and 
psyche, our willingness to act and our 
hesitations to do so are revealed m 
their powerful complexity. Desire and 
repression need an analysis that ac- 
knowledges this complexity and af- 
firms the difficulties each woman faces 
in attempting to rework her relation- 
ship to pleasure. . 

Taking risks with our desires, with 
our bodies and our conceptions of self, 
in the pursuit of erotic pleasure feels 
frightening. This fear grows m part 
from the generalized anxiety that most 
of us experience when confronted with 
the possibilities of change. If we have 
known ourselves as sexual magnets, 
waiting, waiting for the pull, then al- 
tering our relationship to activity feels 
uncomfortable. Some of us are more 
comfortable lamenting our condition, 
blaming the system or men or wom- 
en for our lack of sexual satisfaction. 
The tradition of female lament is re- 
vered and embraced. To renounce this 
stance means giving up the status of 
victim in relation to our bodies and 
our pleasure. This change to sexual 
actor is fearful on another level, an 
almost imperceptible place where our 
security as "real" women lies. In a sys- 
tem where Women make love but do 
not fuck, where Women request but do 
not demand, women who actively 
strategize for their own pleasure are 




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confused about their acceptability into 
the only gender category that should 
embrace them. Standing at the frontier 
of your own gender, looking away and 
not back, creates an understandable 
anxiety. If we are not Women as we 
have been designed, then who are we? 
Many of us fear for our feminine iden- 
tity and the loss of what is familiar. We 
also fear the loss of feminist support. 
In the context of this magazine, we 
have been able to listen and to observe 
women who have dared to test the 
boundaries of their tolerance for pleas- 
ure. Vicariously and voyeuristically, we 
as editors have been cheered by the 
many women who not only yearn and 
long, but act. The ways in which these 
women have thought about sexuality 
have stimulated us to question the 
feminine reticence we have been con- 
strained by. Our muteness is losing its 
appeal. As we proceed in this project 
of creating a feminist understanding of 
our sexual choices, our changing de- 
sires and our erotic possibilities, we 
prepare the way for a sexual politics 
that has pleasure as its goal. This mag- 
azine is an act of solidarity with those 
women, ourselves, who will struggle to 
speak and act in our own interests. 
Femininity, imposed and embraced, 
has not served us, since it requires us to 
renounce the things that can give us 
power. Let's have more . . .more pleas- 
ure, more variety, more analysis, more 
debate, more honesty. 

39 




Dialectics of a Feminist Iconography 



i 



Linda Nochlin's question "Why are 
there no great women artists?" could 
easily be amended to read: "Why are 
there no great women artists working 
with the male image?" Only recently 
have women begun to portray the male 
body in terms of their own unabashed 
sexuality or dealt explicitly with phallic 
imagery. With a few exceptions — 
notably Alice Neel's painting of a lech- 
erous Joe Gould (1933) — there are no 






precursors to this movement, which 
began in the 1960's. 

In contrast, the female nude has 
been an object of eroticism throughout 
art history. For centuries men have 
been obsessed with women as objects: 
objects of necessity, of status, of desire. 
Men have invested themselves intel- 
lectually and emotionally in exploring 
and clarifying their own problems 
through the vehicle of the female body. 




40 



Eunice Golden 

More than that, they have, through 
the language of art, saturated our cul- 
ture with female images based on the 
concept of male supremacy and female 
submission, of male power and female 
vulnerability — in short, on ways of 
seeing rooted in male experience, male 
institutions, and male values. 

In the last two decades, the wom- 
en's movement has challenged this 
male denial of female identity, and the 
shock waves are still being felt by the 
culture at large. Yet an art that cele- 
brates as well as explores women's sex- 
uality through the use of the male 
image is so revolutionary and carries 
such a powerful threat that it has pro- 
voked considerable suppression from 
the male establishment. While women 
artists working with images of the male 
nude have discovered a new energy in 
challenging male ideas of female sexu- 
ality, they have also met with censor- 
ship and misunderstanding. 

In the sixties there was an explo- 
sion of thought in every discipline. As 
we shed old values and developed new 
ones, we created a maze of new infor- 
mation to be considered and explored. 
Thus, when I began to paint the male 
nude it seemed quite natural to me. It 
never occurred to me that anyone 
would be shocked by my subject 
matter. 

As an artist, I took my human con- 
cerns with me into the studio. By the 
early sixties I realized that I needed 
imagery that permitted me to explore 
what I was feeling as a woman and as 
an artist. I began to search for images 
that would respond to what was hap- 
pening in my life at that time: tensions 
in my marriage, my dissatisfaction 
with my roles as wife and mother, as 
well as my concern with the politics of 
capitalism and patriarchy. Why were 
there no male nudes in contemporary 
art? I asked myself. I was bored with 
the female nude and I had many erotic 
fantasies that I longed to incorporate 
into my work. I began to draw nude 

© 1981 Eunice Golden 



T 



studies of my male friends, many of 
w hom were artists themselves. Al- 
though there was no overt sexual ex- 
change, this became an exciting mu- 
tual experience, reversing the roles of 
artist and model for many of my sub- 
jects. Sometimes the model's penis be- 
came erect and I drew fast and furious 
to capture the moment. I felt that I 
was making a breakthrough in my own 
life: giving myself permission to act 
without inhibition or self-censorship. 
After making literally hundreds of 
"male landscapes," I felt that I had 
found a personal statement that I 
wanted to share with the art com- 
munity. Joining the Ad Hoc Commit- 
tee for Women Artists and Women in 
the Arts in the early seventies, I dis- 
covered many women artists who were 
also working with very personal state- 
ments, incorporating content and 
imagery that, while not necessarily 
sexual, was highly autobiographical. 
"Central-core" imagery, with its fruit 
and flower formations and many varia- 
tions on the circle, was becoming em- 
blematic to the women artists' move- 
ment, as a result of Judy Chicago's and 
Miriam Schapiro's activities on the 
West Coast. Yet many artists whose 
work exemplified central-core imagery 
were reluctant to label their work 
"sexual" because sexuality in women's 
art was still being suppressed. 

Although my own work did not 



draw on central-core imagery, it did 
deal with a feminist sensibility. When I 
began to take my work around to mu- 
seums and galleries, I knew by their 
responses that it had a profound im- 
pact. When it was rejected with some 
flimsy excuse — "It didn't fit in with the 
theme of the show" ("Sons and Others, 
How Women See Men," Queens Muse- 
um, 1976) — I began to recognize the 
undercurrent of censorship that I and 
other women artists working with male 
imagery would confront again and 
again. 

By this time, central-core imagery 
was an acceptable and even comfort- 
able feminist imagery for many women 
artists and male critics (who now had a 
formula for feminist work and some 
criteria by which to judge it). Yet I 
wanted to go beyond the autoerotic 
(even though I sympathized with those 
women who were attempting to re- 
claim their own bodies). I wanted to 
disclaim all the ways that men had 
looked at women. Within my work, I 
wanted to explore my heterosexual 
experience as well as to attack the pow- 
erful art historical bias against the 
male nude as a vehicle for women 
artists. I used the "male landscape" 
theme to depict our bombardment by 
phallic imagery: from architecture 
and autocratic male institutions to 
male -determined propaganda in ad- 
vertising and media. I also wanted to 




explore the "phallacy" of that power — 
its vulnerability to and dependence on 
a female audience. 

This dichotomy of power and vul- 
nerability preoccupied me. In my 
painting Purple Sky (1969) a six-foot 
male torso seems to expand beyond the 
edges of the canvas, his erect penis sil- 
houetted against a velvety night sky — a 
monument to power, an erotically 
charged power. As I worked on this 
image I felt myself penetrating the 
painting's surface and cloaking myself 
in the skins of the male body land- 
scape, but as a woman, incorporating 
my body with his, thereby transcend- 
ing his power and reclaiming my own. 
In this androgenous state I could even 
empathize with his eroticism as he 
caressed his genitals. In Cronus 7(1968) 
a rather humorous, headless male god 
postures in a typical macho stance, 
daring someone to challenge his au- 
tonomy. He clutches his genitals, how- 
ever, suggesting their vulnerability. In 
Study for a Flag (1974), an almost six- 
foot penis erect in glory shows again 
the monumental power of the male 
establishment. But the penis leans to 
the side, like the Tower of Pisa, hint- 
ing at its fall. These blow-ups of male 
genitalia have a quality of nakedness, 
of exposure, yet the image is on the 
scale of a landscape, bringing the 
viewer into sharp focus with its detail. 
Other women artists are also ex- 
ploring the male landscape. Marjorie 
Strider's large penises on Greek vases 
seem about to explode and exude their 
messy goo all over the sacred forms of 
high art — a comment not only on her 
own sexuality but, through the juxta- 
posing of images, an indictment of the 
male culture which dismisses the erotic 
as a low art form. May Stevens' Big 
Daddy Paper Dolls with their elon- 
gated phallic heads visualize the 16th- 
century Jesuit Possevino's declaration: 
"Man is his genitals!" while reminding 
us of the connection between patriar- 
chal power and capitalism. Audrey 
Flack's Davey Moore (the Black boxer 
who dropped dead while talking to 
Life reporters) celebrates Moore's 
masculinity while exhibiting it as an 
instrument of his exploitation and 
destruction. Nancy Grossman's leath- 
ered sculptures suggest that man's 
reckless use of power is dehumanizing 
him, dooming him to eternal bondage, 
zippered and encased in his own para- 
noia. While these works comment on 
the dichotomy of power and vulnera- 
bility within the male landscape, other 
works by women artists celebrate the 

41 



voyeuristic appeal of the male nude. 

Martha Edelheit, Sylvia Sleigh, 
and Marion Pinto, to name a few, de- 
light in gazing on the male body as it 
reclines in a passive state. They are 
unselfconsciously voyeuristic in their 
pleasure as well as assertive in express- 
ing their sexuality. Anita Steckel's 
Feminist Peep Show hits below the belt 
of Victorian gentlemen. When Alice 
Neel painted Joe Gould, she lavishly 
endowed him with three sets of geni- 
tals, displaying his arrogance and exhi- 
bitionism, but also his impotence in 
satisfying the magnitude of her sexual 
appetite. My Garden of Delights #1 
(1980) depicts a male nude reclining in 
a sensual space of inchoate patterns of 
patriarchal cultures. Visually and 
intrapsychically, the viewer is jolted 
yet lured into participating in the 
seduction. 



However, along with this celebra- 
tion of pleasure goes the reminder of 
its frustration. Because there is no 
voyeuristic tradition for women, the 
work is often misunderstood: "Why 
did you make the penis look like a 
snake?" someone asked me. I replied, 
"I made it look like a flower." This 
misunderstanding and the frustration 
of living within a male landscape often 
breeds hostility, even rage, among 
women. Women feel raped by the cen- 
sorship and vandalism done to their 
work that deals with sexual imagery. * 

I have discovered that viewers ex- 
press a great deal of fear, either overtly 
or covertly, when confronted with my 
work. Something about the work's erot- 
icism, voyeurism, power, and aggres- 
siveness—even its androgenous nature 
— provokes this emotional response. 
Sometimes there is a homophobic 




response from heterosexual men. Or 
the work may evoke childhood fears of 
castration by a woman. There is also 
the fear of impotence and genital size 
comparison. "How could I measure up 
to that?" several men have comment- 
ed. "You'll never get a job from a 
chairman with a small prick" was an- 
other remark. Even many women crit- 
ics feel discomfort when confronted by 
these images due to their cultural heri- 
tage. 

Censorship functions on many 
levels, preventing women from devel- 
oping a female erotica. Women may 
refuse to show their work for fear of 
censorship or vandalism. Or they may 
find that the sexual imagery within 
their work is denied, or even disclaim 
it themselves. Louise Bourgeois' mar- 
ble landscape sculptures, with their 
breast/phallic formations, for in- 
stance, have only recently been con- 
sidered as sexual images. Another 
problem arises when male critics who 
see themselves as sympathetic to wom- 
en's art determine formulas for "femi- 
nist" art (pattern painting, central- 
core imagery). If women permit them- 
selves to be influenced by this propa- 
ganda, they may find themselves offer- 
ing only a narcissistic twist to the 
cheesecake imagery that men have so 
long venerated in either high or low 
art. 

For women to take control of their 
own image-making processes, they 
must become aware of the dialectics of 
eroticism and power and why such 
imagery is taboo— especially potent 
phallic imagery like the erect penis. It 
is important for women to reclaim 
their sexuality, free from male pre- 
cepts, and find their own imagery, 
their own awareness of themselves, and 
not only from an autoerotic or narcis- 
sistic point of view. There should be a 
place in women's art where intimacy 
can be defined in terms that are very 
broadly sexual: a prophetic art whose 
richness of fantasy may unleash a 
healthy appetite for a greater sense 
awareness as well as unmask the fal- 
lacies of male power. 

I would like to thank Kay Kenny for all her help 
on this piece. 

*My Rape series (1973) is both a response to this 
censorship and a comment on Magritte's mutila- 
tion of a woman's face with her sexuality. 



42 



m 




m i 



i 



m 



1 1 



Harmony Hammond 



Art and sex in contemporary Amer- 
ican life have an illicit relationship. 
While everyone knows about their liai- 
son, it is seldom openly discussed. Per- 
haps, as Joanna Freuh proposes, this is 
due to: 

. our Judeo- Christian culture's sup- 
pression of sexuality and fear of the 
body as a source of pleasure and beau- 
ty. . . ; the belief that high art must be 
divorced from everyday life and activ- 
ities, such as sex, or must transcend 
them; the notion that spirituality re- 
sides only in asceticism and the soul; 
[or] the faith in rationalism which 
maintains that only intellect may know 
or solve all.' 

I think these are accurate observa- 
tions, but I also think that the absence 
of serious discussion of sexual issues in 
art is due to the male monopoly on de- 
fining cultural images and to the fact 
that sexuality in art has nearly always 
been presented from a male point of 
view. A basic male attitude toward 
sexuality — unconnectedness to nature 
and uncomfortableness with self— is 
hidden under a blanket of assumed 
power and superiority. Anything con- 
nected to sexuality is treated as a dirty 
joke. 

While sexual imagery has played a 
role in the art of many cultures, until 
recently very little of it reflected sexu- 
ality from a woman's point of view. In 
the last 10 years, however, within the 
context of the feminist movement, 
women — lesbian and heterosexual — 
have been getting in touch with and 
reclaiming their bodies, their sexual 
feelings, and expressing these feel- 
ings in their art. While we can find a 
few early examples — Georgia O'Keefe's 
shells, flowers, and landscapes; Louise 
Bourgeois' abstract sculptural refer- 
ences to women's bodies; Emily Carr's 
forest caves; Romaine Brooks' por- 
traits of female friends and lovers; and 
Isabelle Bishop's depictions of working 
women spending intimate time togeth- 
er—now there is an abundance of visu- 
al art dealing explicitly with women's 
sexuality as experienced by women. 

© 1981 Harmony Hammond 



Since a woman's sexual experience 
is not the same as a man's, only women 
can truly express women's, sexuality. 
Any art that is really about women's 
sexuality as experienced by women is 
woman-centered. 2 Yet often "women's 
sexuality in art" and art by lesbians are 
confused. They are not the same thing. 
Perhaps all expressions of woman- 
focused sexuality contain some lesbian 
feeling, regardless of whether the artist 
is heterosexual or lesbian, but all art 



by lesbians is not sexual by nature. 
Lesbians, like other artists, make art 
about many different subjects. But 
people continue to define lesbians only 
by their sexuality, as if compulsive, 
uncontrollable sex were the only pre- 
occupation in their lives, which is like 
saying that Gertrude and Virginia 
never wrote, or that Romaine and 
Emily never painted. Visual art by les- 
bians is not always overtly lesbian in 
character and woman-centered art 




may or may not be made by lesbians. 

If we look at woman -centered work, 
we can see recurring characteristics, 
themes, and approaches. In this work 
women are not shown as weak, sick, or 
passive. They are not objectified or 
exploited. Nor are they shown in con- 
flict with each other. Instead, they 
appear strong, healthy, active, and 
comfortable with their bodies. This is 
in contrast to the misogynist attitudes 
toward women's bodies and bodily 
functions that we observe throughout 
the history of Western art. Woman- 
centered sexuality is not portrayed 
through S & M , violent, pornographic, 
or victim images. 

Carol Duncan points out that "the 
subjugation of the female appears to 
be one of the primary motives of mod- 
ern [male] erotic art." 3 To achieve 
power and dominance the artist turns 
the model into the ideal universal and 
unreal nude or the vampire she-bitch 
(the femme fatale) who deserves to be 
and must be restrained or destroyed 
through specific imagery or through 
the more sophisticated and subtle but 
no less dangerous means of fragmenta- 
tion and abstraction. Woman must be 
separated from herself, and it must be 
made clear that she owes her existence 
to the male artist and not he to her. As 
Duncan says, for men, "Creation seems 
to equal possession." 

This is not true of sexual imagery 
in woman-centered art. First of all, 
women are no longer being defined in 
relationship to men. The male pres- 
ence is gone. Women do not depict 
each other as sex objects to be domi- 
nated or possessed, or as objects of any 
kind. Nikki de Saint Phalle's Nan'ds 
and Kate Millet's Naked Ladies are 
powerful women who take up and fill 
space. Hardly the ideal of the classical 
contained nude, these women are big 
— often 10 feet tall — out of proportion 
(out of control?), have lumps and 
bumps, and seem to be totally here 
and in touch with their physical selves. 
They are not passive, but active, full of 
energy and exuberance, and, in this 
sense, erotic. 

Audre Lorde writes: 

The erotic has often been misnamed 
by men and used against women. It 
has been made into the confused, the 
trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized 
sensation. For this reason we have of- 
ten turned away from the exploration 
and consideration of the erotic as a 
source of power and information, con- 
fusing it with its opposite, the porno- 
graphic. But pornography is a direct 1 

44 



denial of the power of the erotic, for it 
represents the suppression of true feel- 
ing. Pornography emphasizes sensa- 
tion without feeling. . . . The erotic is a 
measure between the beginnings of our 
sense of self and the chaos of our 
strongest feelings. . . an assertion of the 
life-force of women; of that creative 
energy empowered. 4 

As women, we are exploring our 
erotic imagination, often connecting it 
with our sexual and creative selves, 
and to do so is political, for it chal- 
lenges the basis of male supremacy. 

In Nancy Fried's bread-dough and 
porcelain plaques, reminiscent of cloi- 
sonne enamels, women are shown to- 
gether, usually undressed, relaxing at 
home — lying around, getting some- 
thing out of the refrigerator, taking a 
bath, or perhaps snuggling up in each 
other's arms in front of the TV. Fried 
delights in all the little details of wom- 



en's bodies and women's homes — a 
hairdo, a tattoo, pubic and underarm 
hair, the pattern of the wallpaper, the 
crewelwork on a pillow, or the cat 
curled up in the corner. These women 
are open and comfortable with each 
other and with us, which shouldn't 
seem unusual except that it is exactly 
the kind of image that has been miss- 
ing in art for centuries. 

In Cynthia McLean's paintings, 
Janet Culbertson's and Sandy De San- 
do's drawings, andjeb's photographs, 
women lie around together in a man- 
ner that is sometimes sexually erotic 
but more often reflective of a kind of 
comfort that women get from each 
other. Frequently the women have 
their eyes closed in total trust, their 
arms in loose hugs, and their heads on 
each other's shoulders. 

In woman-centered art, relation- 
ships between women are often por- 




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trayed or alluded to. Faith Wilding's 
Our Skins Are So Thin is an abstract 
statement about the reaching out yet 
vulnerability of touching, and Carla 
Tardi writes phrases such as "Her eyes 
are like pools of water" or "She sees 
right through me" underneath bright- 
ly painted organic hair/plant forms. 
In her series entitled The Lesbian 
Body, Kate Millet combines words 
with gestural drawings of breasts. The 
visual effect is of a relaxed, chummy 
conversation between two breasts 
about life and love with political over- 
tones. 

Women artists are creating images 
of women making love or openly show- 
ing affection for each other in a way 
that is not voyeuristic or exhibitionist. 
These images are meant for a female 
audience and are meant to turn wom- 
en on. On to each other. On to them- 
selves. Specifically erotic images were 
first visible in the work of lesbian pho- 
tographers and in the illustrations in 
many lesbian-feminist publications; 
they have now been extended to paint- 
ing, sculpture, and many graphic 
forms. It is interesting to note, though, 
that while art reflecting woman-cen- 
tered sexuality is made by lesbians and 
heterosexual women, as far as I know, 
explicit images of women making love 
to each other are made only by les- 
bians (Hollis Sigler, Janet Cooling, 
Tee Corrine, Kate Millet, Nancy 
Fried). Many heterosexual women 
have fantasies of making love with 
another woman, but none of them 
depict it. Perhaps this has something 
to do with the power of art to turn fan- 
tasy into reality. 

In Mary Frank's stoneware sculp- 
tures we often see figures embracing 
and merging into each other. Two fe- 
male figures or one male and one fe- 
male making love, or two sides of the 
same person? It is unclear, but the 
blending feels female and masturba- 
tory. Low and reclining, body parts 
melting into the sand, the clay surface 
is often imprinted with leaf and fern 
fossils, implying an almost primeval 
connection between nature, sexuality, 
and creativity. 

This masturbatory feeling of or- 
ganic blending, of a heightened erotic 
sense, appears frequently in woman- 
centered art. The feeling of touching 
oneself is directly connected to wom- 
en's art-making and is at least partially 
the function of the art-making. While 
I hesitate to state this publicly for fear 
that it will be misunderstood or ridi- 
culed, I think it is highly significant 



that in private conversation many 
women artists will mention that they 
frequently masturbate and enjoy mas- 
turbating in their studios and in the 
process of working. Could it be that 
this is the place where we are most 
comfortable, unthreatened, and most 
in touch with our inner selves — with 
the erotic life-force Audre Lorde 
speaks of? 

There are a few figurative artists 
who depict women masturbating; how- 
ever, masturbation is more frequently 
implied through the images of the 
hand or fingers, as in work by Jane 
Abrams, Marisol, and Joan Semmel. 
Mary Frank, Helene Aylon, Michelle 
Stuart, Lynda Benglis, and others con- 
vey that quality of feeling primarily 
through the materials and processes 
they use. In Lynda Benglis' early work, 
the orgasmic sexuality seemed very 
self-focused and woman-centered, 
masturbatory. The sexuality was the 
orgasmic feeling caught in action in 
the latex and foam pieces or the defi- 
nite labia imagery of the wax pieces. 
Benglis herself has stated, "All my art 
is erotic, suggestive. It is about female 
sexuality, about being a woman." 5 

In our art we are depicting wom- 
en's bodies as they really are — in dif- 
ferent shapes, sizes, and colors. We are 
painting women of different ages so 
that all the freckles, wrinkles, and 
stretch marks show. Joan Semmel 
paints close-up landscape examina- 
tions of her own body, the body of a 
middle-aged woman stretching, fold- 
ing, and falling where it will, warm 



and sensuous. It is not the firm, glossy 
body-replica on record album covers, 
or the thin asexual threads we find in 
fashion magazines (the slick media ver- 
sions of the 20th-century paintings 
Duncan was talking about). In Sem- 
mel's paintings the feeling is one of a 
woman's body following a natural cy- 
cle, the body as nature itself. The 
image is focused downwards; what we 
can see is framed by the canvas edge, 
as if to show us an intimate secret — not 
viewed from the outside, but examined 
up close. Again, the body fills the 
space. 

Semmel's paintings point to an im- 
portant aspect of woman-centered 
sexual work. We, the viewers, simul- 
taneously see and feel the meaning of 
the picture. We feel the touch on our 
own bodies. This is quite different 
from the traditional manner in which 
women have been sexually portrayed, 
where the way visually into the paint- 
ing was to identify the male artist, who 
has created and controls the depicted 
woman. As women viewers, we cannot 
identify with the woman, but have to 
distance ourselves in order to even look 
at the work at all. In woman-centered 
work like Semmel's, we identify with 
the woman. The body in the painting 
is the artist's body (literally and meta- 
phorically) and becomes our body, 
and we identify through this connec- 
tion and feeling. We become the wom- 
an in the picture, in this case the artist, 
looking at and feeling herself. The 
sense of touching oneself extended. 

In Marisol's drawings and litho- 




45 



graphs, hands or fingers carry pocket- 
books, form suggestive shapes, or just 
float in from the edges of the paper. 
The hands both refer to another part 
of the body and remain hands, the 
touching organ. The gesture is not 
completed but implies a sexuality of 
touching, allowing us to feel out or 
complete our own fantasies. 

I have been primarily discussing 
woman-centered sexual imagery in 
figurative art. However, for many 
women a strong body sense is indicated 
through their use of materials and the 
physical manipulation of those materi- 
als. Like many artists, women have 
played with the sensuousness of thick 
paint, but it is most often with an 
awareness of the paint being a "skin" 
of paint, and therefore a body/skin 
metaphor. <> I immediately think of 
Louise Kramer's giant inflated latex 
balls with their organic skin surfaces, 
or Louise Fishman's work, where layers 
of oil paint and wax are applied and 
scraped off with a palette knife — the 
resulting surface sensuous yet re- 
strained, often painful, like layers of 
skin scratched away, revealing what is 
underneath. When Joan Snyder slashes 
one of her paintings and squishes 
paint, gauze, glue, or papier-mache 
into the wound, she not only violates 
the traditional painting surface, but 
also speaks of the sexual violence done 
to women's bodies. 

Similarly, a skin of paint or liquid 
rubber literally holds my wrapped rag 
sculptures together, becoming a meta- 
phor for how my art -making functions 
for me — literally holding me and my 
life together. Wrapping the fabric is in 
itself a very physical activity, involving 
the whole body, and ultimately con- 
tributes to the abstract sensual sense of 
the finished piece. I find that materials 
which suggest direct hand manipula- 
tion (clay, plaster, papier-mache, and 
fabric) or paint used to suggest finger 
painting, as well as materials actually 
taken from bodies — hair, nail clip- 
pings, teeth, leather (skin) — seem to 
carry with them sexual references. 

Often this material and process 
reference to sensuality is combined 
with an abstract imagery referring to 
parts of the body, yet simultaneously 
to the whole body. Louise Bourgeois' 
latex, marble, and plaster sculptures; 
Barbara Zucker's hydrocal Huts; Amy 
Hamouda's fiber sculptures; Debbie 
Jones' carved wood receptacles; Lynda 
Benglis' latex, foam, and wax pieces; 
Sandy De Sando's plaster cakes; Donna 
Byars' vaginal icons of old wood and 

46 



fabric; Hannah Wilke's early latex and 
eraser works; and my own wrapped 
sculptures are just a few of many ex- 
amples where the feeling of sensuality 
comes simultaneously from the materi- 
als and their manipulation and from 
abstract body references. 

Women talk about getting in touch 
with themselves as they make work and 
about that process becoming part of 
the meaning of the pieces. Many young 
lesbians have told me that they came 
out simultaneously as lesbians and as 
artists. They say that getting in touch 
with their physical/sexual selves tapped 
their creative selves and that this al- 
lowed them to work from their whole 
being. 

In this respect, Debbie Jones draws 
distinctions between visual art by hete- 
rosexual and lesbian women. She says 
that straight women depict female 
forms from the outside, at a distance, 
while lesbians depict the same forms as 
they are physically felt inside or experi- 
enced as a whole. 7 This sounded right 
at first, but now I am not sure if I 
totally agree. The boundaries aren't 
all that clear. What Jones points out 
certainly seems true of art by lesbians 
working with sexual imagery, but it 
also seems true of any woman-centered 
sexual imagery. The work is felt, not 
viewed from a distance, and the sexu- 
ality comes from a sense of wholeness, 
touching one's wholeness, one's whole 
self. While some of us may feel the 
work is lesbian in that sense, this wom- 
an-centered work is made both by 
women who define themselves as hete- 
rosexual and those who define them- 
selves as lesbians. 






Women working with sexual sym . 
bolism often use vaginal imagery 
Shells, flowers, fruits, eggs, caves, con 
tainers, bags, houses, boxes, and the 
landscape are frequently used. In f act 
so many women have been working 
with this kind of symbolism, as a stand 
in for the female form, that it would 
be difficult to discuss them all. Let me 
mention just a few: Judy Chicago, Bet- 
sy Damon, Buffie Johnson, Carla Tar- 
di, Mary Beth Edelson, Ellen Lanyon, 
Yuko Nii, Ana Mendieta, Shirley Bern- 
stein, Kathryn Sokolnikoff, Donna 
Dennis, and Jane Abrams. 

Jane Abrams' work combines the 
image of a hand with a body symbol. 
She uses the image of a rose (genital- 
ia) being touched lightly but delib- 
erately in its center by a female hand 
(hers or another's we do not know). 
Often this pastel triple-layered image 
(the layers of a fantasy or dream state) 
is placed on a page covered with a 
feminine pattern that is reminiscent of 
bedroom or bathroom wallpaper. The 
fact that Abrams' process is complex 
and time-consuming, combining pho- 
tography, intaglio, silkscreen, and 
drawing, gives the pieces a relaxed 
extended sense of time, and heightens 
the erotic sense. I feel her images as if 
the hand in one of her pieces were 
touching me. 

And sometimes there is a sense of 
humor. Lili Lakich combines a neon 
"No Vacancy" sign with a female tor- 
so. Jane Abrams has a wonderful etch- 
ing of a hairy envelope, an "invitation" 
whose sealing wax must be broken to 
get to the contents, while Donna Den- 
nis' False Fronts and Entrances, built 






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xactly to her height, seem like stage 
n ats or movie sets. Just like the women 
■ Jane Bowles' Two Serious Ladies, 
'ou never get inside, for the doorways 
I r e too small or closed off even though 
interior spaces are alluded to or visible. 
For a long time, and in varying 
degrees, women have been denied the 
seXU al imagery in their work. Too 
threatening to be taken seriously, 
woman-centered art that is overtly 
sexual is still trivialized, ridiculed, or 
j<mored. However, consciousness and 
claiming of one's self, sexual, as well as 
intellectual and spiritual, open a pow- 
erful creative source for women. If 
W e are to make art that has meaning, 
it must be honest, and to make art that 
is honest, it is essential that we do not 
cut off any part of ourselves. Sexuality 
is something we all possess. 

A sense of touch is necessary. For 
art. For revolution. For life. 

An earlier version of this article appeared in New 
Art Examiner (Summer 1979). Examples of work 
by many of the artists mentioned in this art.cle 
have appeared in previous issues of Heresies. 

1 Joanna Freuh, "Editorial." New Art Examiner 
(Summer 1979), p. 1. 

2 This differs from sexual imagery by women 
that is male-centered or which merely changes 
the position of who's on top (Dotty Att.e, Judith 
Bernstein, Eunice Golden, Sylvia Sleigh, Anita 
Steckel as well as some work by Lynda Benglis 
and Hannah Wilke). I am not discussing that 
work here. Nor am I discussing that body of work 
which attempts to critique male pornography 
since I find that most art of this nature that I 
have seen still depends on the sensationalism and 
voyeurism of the very images being critiqued. 

3 Carol Duncan, "The Esthetics of Power in 
Modern Erotic Art," Heresies, Vol. 1, No. 1 
(1977), pp. 46-50. 

4. Audre Lorde, "The Erotic as Power," Chrys- 
alis (1979). 

5. Dorothy Sieberling, "The New Sexual Frank- 
ness: Goodbye to Hearts and Flowers," New York 
(1974). 

6. Lucy Lippard, "Quite Contrary: Body, Na- 
ture, Ritual in Women's Art," Chrysalis, No. I 
(1977), pp. 30-47. 

7. Debbie Jones, "What Does Being a Lesbian 
Artist Mean to You?," Heresies, Vol. 1, No. 3 

V (1977), p. 46. 

Harmony Hammond is a painter and sculptor. 
, She travels extensively looking at and lecturing 
and writing about feminist art and politics. 










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Island Cabin 

Irare Sabdsu 

she is tounge-deep inside me 

sucking syrup from the 

softness of the split-slit door 

fingernails across my breasts 

splinters piercing from the floor 

the sunbeams squirm across the walls 

even door closed, I hear the waves. 

she's become vampire-bold 

her teeth cuts through her smiles 

and she pierces every pleasure with some pam. 

she proceeds to hurt me till I shimmer 

inside pretty pleasure prisms 

spaced between the coming and the come. 

even shutters closed, I reel, I feel the sun. 

she said she's scorpio rising 

that West Indian women really turn her on 

and that I am just what she is here for 

a pleasure trip, open lips, 

a tropic clit, a nipples tip. . . . 

a two-week summer slip-away away 

even legs closed, she ignites me 

and I implode. 



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Irare Sabasu, freelance writer, artist, andTaurean, resides 
in NYC, via the Caribbean. Into sister strength, open minds, 
and communication via all our senses. 

© 1981 Irare Sabasu 



47 




Paula Webster 



Every feminist in the New York 
metropolitan area has heard of Wom- 
en Against Pornography. Indeed, in 
the last few years, pornography has be- 
come the focus for a great deal of femi- 
nist activity. In one of the best-organ- 
ized and best-funded campaigns in 
movement history, women have been 
encouraged to examine their gut reac- 
tions to sexually explicit material and 
to take a political stand that condemns 
pornography as a major cause of vio- 
lence against women. 

Women from every part of the 
movement, and women who would 
have no part of the movement, came 
together around this issue. Political 
differences, both in theory and prac- 
tice, were set aside as pornography was 
assigned a privileged position in the 
discourse on women's oppression. At 
least publicly, the link was unques- 
tioned. Pornography caused violence 
against women. Moreover, not only 
did pornography cause violence against 
women, it was violence against wom- 
en. Pornography made women victims, 
for it depicted women as subject to 
men's sexual lusts. The very existence 
of 42nd Street was an assault on wom- 
en. All those pictures, films, advertise- 
ments degraded and therefore violated 
women. 

A vast sea of feminist solidarity 
swelled around the issue of pornogra- 
phy. To move against the wave felt 
truly threatening. Although a few 
voices addressed contradictions in the 
anti-porn analysis,' no dissenting 
movement developed. Criticism was 
kept to a minimum. It is one thing to 
disagree with a group you are fighting 

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48 © 1981 Paula Webster 



against, but serious discord within your 
own movement is problematic. We 
seem to fear that feminist solidarity, so 
precious to us all, will not survive any 
rigorous criticism. 

Yet many women, under their 
breath, confided that something was 
missing from all this discussion of the 
production and consumption of sexual- 
ly explicit material. Dogmatism, 
moralizing, and censorial mystifying 
tended to dominate the anti-porn cam- 
paign. What about encouraging an 
honest dialogue about our sexual im- 
agination? The shifting of discourse 
might have opened the floodgates of 
many passions. So much remains un- 
said about our eroticism, our fantasies, 
our sexual activities, our longings for 
satisfaction. Our pleasure, as it is con- 
stituted inside and out of heterosexu- 
ality and patriarchy, never got center 
stage. Because this was a movement 
to chastise men for their vices, women 
were not encouraged to talk about 
their relationship to sexuality. 

But what did we really feel under 
the onslaught of sexual imagery pro- 
vided by the campaign? I remember 
seeing a slide show with about 30 
images of predominantly heterosexual 
couples engaged in intercourse (genital 
and anal), bondage, and sadomaso- 
chism. There were shots of individual 
women, bound and gagged, pictures 
of female dominatrixes, assorted al- 
bum covers, posters, clothing adver- 
tisements, as well as a handful of very 
jarring images of self-mutilation and 
the now-infamous Hustler photos of 
women arranged as food on a platter 
or put through a meat grinder. 



Despite the lecturer's claim that all 
reactions to the slides were encouraged, 
each slide was interpreted to reveal its 
implicit pernicious meaning. One 
viewer, for example, asked why the 
photo of a young girl about to have 
anal intercourse was described as "the 
violent rape of a child." The reply was 
that she was obviously under age, so at 
the least it was statutory rape. The lec- 
turer added that anal intercourse was 
"very painful"; therefore it was unlike- 
ly that this "tiny young girl" could 
have been anything other than brutal- 
ly injured. I thought this reply indi- 
cated certain biases about pain and 
pleasure and preferred positions. Yet 
the most important misunderstanding 
was that a mere representation was 
spoken of as a reality— as an actual 
event recorded by some Candid Cam- 
era. The multiplicity of issues around 
gender, power, and sexuality embed- 
ded in each slide was disregarded; only 
one way of seeing was acceptable. Our 
"visual guide" invariably revealed the 
real or implied violence of the slide. 
All images of women were suspect. 

In one department store ad for 
girls' shirts the seductive looks of the 
child models were offered as proof 
positive that the evil influence of por- 
nography had filtered down to the 
truly mass media and was spreading 
like a contagious plague through even 
the most mundane images. Such pho- 
tos, not unlike ones we could all find in 
family scrapbooks of ourselves as pre- 
teens, were indicted as encouragement 
to incest. No one thought it strange 
that these ads, directed primarily at 
women consumers, did not incite these 




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somen's lust for their sons, daughters, 
and other women. 

To discourage and deny the charge 
that the campaign was anti-sex, erotica 
was held up as the only sexually expli- 
cit material that did not represent vio- 
lence or cause it. "Erotica" became the 
code word for stimulation appropriate 
to a feminist consciousness, while "por- 
nography" was defined as exclusively 
male and therefore "naturally" devoid 
of distinctions between sex and vio- 
lence. The implications of this neat 
dichotomization and sex-typing of 
desire reflect, unchanged, the Vic- 
torian ideology of innate differences in 
the nature of male and female libido 
and fantasy. Men, we are to presume, 
because of their "excessive" drive, pre- 
fer the hard edge of pornography. 
Women, less driven by the "beast," 
find erotica just their cup of tea. 

Given this map of the sexual world, 
it was most distressing that during the 
slide show no erotica was ever present- 
ed, leaving the impression that erotica 
itself is very rare, or so mundane that 
we can trust our memories to recall its 
charge. This category of images, ab- 
sent and therefore mute, was con- 
sidered essentially unproblematic. It 
was good, healthy sexual imagery -the 
standard against which pornography 
and perhaps our own sexual lives were 
to be judged. The subjectivity involved 
in dividing explicitly sexual material 
into hard-core, soft-core, and erotic 
was never challenged by the audience. 
What is defined as pornography 
and what is defined as erotica no 
doubt depends on personal taste, moral 
boundaries, sexual preferences, cul- 
tural and class biases. These defini- 
tions have contracted and expanded 
over time; advocates of one or the 
other form of imagery have switched 
camps or staunchly defended their 
own. Just as normative attitudes about 
sexual behavior, masculinity and femi- 
ninity, and the social relations between 
the sexes have shifted, so have attitudes 
about sexually explicit material. There 
are no universal, unchanging criteria 
for drawing the line between accept- 
able and unacceptable sexual images. 



As feminists, we might question the 
very impulse to make such a rigid 
separation, to let a small group of 
women dictate the boundaries of our 
morality and our pleasure. 

No discussion immediately fol- 
lowed the slide show. Divided into 
groups, we walked down 42nd Street, 
entering the shops and arcades where 
films, magazines, and live sex shows 
are offered to the male public. For the 
price of a subway ride, I could actually 
watch for a few minutes, in my own 
private booth, the act that for all my 
years in the nuclear family was con- 
sidered dirty, disgusting, and therefore 
taboo. If pornography is propaganda, 
and I do believe that it is, it is not pro- 
moting the violation and degradation 
of women, but traditional heterosexual 
intercourse and gender relations. (Per- 
haps they overlap, but that is another 
story.) What is missing is romance, 
shared social status, worries about 
contraception and shame. The short 
film I saw was not about love, but it 
was undeniably about sex. 

I was grateful for this opportunity 
to demystify a territory that had been 
off-limits to me as a woman. I felt re- 
lieved about the dangers of pornog- 
raphy, since I had viewed little vio- 
lence and a lot of consensual sex. How- 
ever, I was more curious than ever 
about the meaning and function of 
such a zone dedicated to solitary sexual 
stimulation and voyeuristic fantasies. 
The secrecy surrounding sexual activity 
had been, for me, the price all women 
paid for femininity. We were not to 
speak of our desires, only answer "yes" 
or "no." The tour evoked complex 
reactions, including envy, fear, and 
sexual arousal. The social and psychic 
repression of my female desire was 
giving way, every so slightly, under the 
barrage of sexual imagery. I was a 
fascinated tourist in an exotic, erotic, 
and forbidden land. 

The tour and slide show raised 
many questions for me. What is the 
underlying appeal of pornography? 
And what does the volume of business 
done on 42nd Street say about sexual 
relations? What can pornography tell 



us about the nature of desire and its 
relation to fantasy? Is pornography 
really any more dangerous to women 
than fashion magazines, television 
commercials, and cinema? Otherness 
in the guise of domestic purity and 
mindless submission seems more per- 
nicious than Otherness in the guise of 
sexual activity. How, I wondered, can 
we begin to measure the effects of 
objectification in pornography when 
the Otherness ascribed to us at birth 
because we are not male already labels 
us as socially inferior? Such an ancient 
Otherness leaves little room for any 
avowal of our subjectivity. Moreover, 
reality and representation of reality 
are not the same. Objectification may 
be a function of representation. All the 
actors (male and female) in pornog- 
raphy are objectified. They do not 
speak. They are not individuals. They 
have no depth, no contours. They are 
the ritual performers of the culture's 
sexual paradigms. They are not the 
real, but a commentary on the real. 

What I felt after the tour and slide 
show was the need for discussion of our 
many contradictory reactions to what 
we had seen. Yet the lines had already 
been drawn between bad and good 
sex, brainwashed fantasies and uncon- 
taminated desire, danger and purity. 
The excitement of the unknown, the 
delight and terror at seeing so much 
active flesh (male and female), was 
never acknowledged. Like Mom and 
Dad, the tour leaders responded exclu- 
sively to our reactions of disgust. Our 
worst adolescent fantasies (or our best) 
were true. "They" will do anything to 
get it, to have it, to use Mi. To see por- 
nography as a safety valve for the ag- 
gressive sexuality of men was mistaken. 
Pornography "really" acts to disinhibit 
male violence. If it is not done away 
with, we will see an increase in rape, 
battery, and child molestation. This 
final volley of doomsday prediction 
was not easy to recover from. To dis- 
agree was to be aligned with the brain- 
washed or the naive. 

I am convinced that the current 
anti-porn campaign holds significant 
dangers for feminists interested in 




From Tits & Clits Comix. © C$>R>j ^ 17 

49 



developing an analysis of violence 
against women and extending an 
analysis of female sexuality. The pro- 
vocative claims of the campaign create 
an enormous obstacle in the form of 
moral righteousness; they feed the old 
and voracious anxiety we experience 
when confronted with sexual imagery. 
Even more important, the campaign 
has chosen to organize and theorize 
around our victimization, our Other- 
ness, not our subjectivity and self- 
definition. In focusing on what male 
pornography has done to us, rather 
than on our own sexual desires, we 
tend to embrace our sexually deprived 
condition and begin to police the bor- 
ders of the double standard that has 
been used effectively to silence us. It is 
not in the interests of feminism to cir- 
cumvent the vast area of sexual repres- 
sion. And pornography is primarily 
about sexuality. It is important to 
wrench this ground out from under the 
barrage of moralizing so that we can 
understand the social construction of 
all our ideas about our own and male 
sexuality. While it is equally important 
to understand the cultural determi- 
nants of violence against women, I 
would suggest that these tasks remain 
separate for the moment. 

I have serious reservations about 
certain tendencies within the anti-porn 
movement. Are we seeking to protect 
the ideal of Womanhood by claiming 
some natural female superiority in the 
realm of morality and decency? And 
don't we ignore the sexual socialization 
of both men and women in asserting 
that men "by nature" prefer this and 
women that? What about the subver- 
sive elements in pornography, which 
might help feminists to understand the 
conditions under which all sexual be- 
havior is negotiated in a sexist society? 
If women are humiliated by pornog- 
raphy and feel degraded watching 
women get pleasure, then we might 
pause to ask if women feel humiliated 
by real, everyday heterosexuality and 
its demands. Power relations play an 
important role in our actual sexual 
lives. Can we really expect the realm of 
fantasy to be free of the residues of 
that power struggle? 

As women, we have been brought 
up in a society where to be sexual in an 
active or "promiscuous" fashion is to 
transgress the rules for femininity. Not 
just the rules set up by men but the 
rules set and enforced by other women. 
We learned that men were the prince/ 
beasts and we were their expectant 
princesses/martyrs, waiting to be 

50 



aroused by a kiss, leading to love and 
marriage and the protection of our 
vulnerable sexuality. The pursuit of 
sex threatens to make good girls bad, 
so we usually accept the cultural stan- 
dard of sexual minimalism . . . few part- 
ners, fewer positions, less pleasure, 
and no changing of preference. Nice 
girls don't talk about desiring sex. We 
talk about what they did to us. Women 
are allowed to be the objects of desire, 
to attract attention. But we have 
tended to refuse the role of sexual sub- 
ject. Being forward, pushy, seeking sex 
are not acceptable. Being passive, 
teasing to please are still preferred to 
seizing our own pleasure. Pornography 
might be seen as challenging this pro- 
tected and confining corner into which 
women's sexuality has been pushed, 
for it negates the sacramental charac- 
ter of our sexual desires. 

Indeed, I am convinced that por- 




nography, even in its present form, 
contains important messages for wom- 
en. As Angela Carter suggests, 2 it does 
not tie women's sexuality to reproduc- 
tion or to a domesticated couple or 
exclusively to men. It is true that this 
depiction is created by men, but per- 
haps it can encourage us to think of 
what our own images and imaginings 
might be like. 

Television, film, and our mothers 
all reinforce the notion that only bad 
girls like sex. If we reject this good girl/ 
bad girl distinction, the split between 
the mother and the whore, the tour 
guide and the topless dancer, we begin 
to understand that neither has a better 
deal under patriarchy. The comfort- 
able separation between feminists, 
especially academic feminists, and 
prostitutes, office workers, and other 
"exploited women" crumbles when we 
realize the extent to which all our 
bodies become commodities, whether 



within or outside the nuclear family 
In placing the gratification of men 
above our own, we pose absolutely no 
danger to male-dominated society 
What I am suggesting here is not a 
withdrawal from sex, but an active 
pursuit of our gratification, with a 
sense of responsibility, entitlement 
and enthusiasm. The good girl/bad 
girl distinction will fail to terrorize us 
and control our access to pleasure only 
if we set out to destroy the double 
standard. 

Specifically, what we might take 
from male pornography is a vision of 
the mutability of sexual experience 
and a variety of directions for sexual 
experimentation. Whatever its limita- 
tions, pornography does demystify a 
number of sexual practices that have 
been taboo for women. As voyeurs, we 
can participate in homosexual activity, 
domination, group sex, and masochis- 
tic and sadistic orgies. With the clues 
we gather here about our own fan- 
tasies, we can begin to map out the 
zones of cerebral and fleshly arousal. 
Pornography also offers women a 
multiplicity of vantage points for ana- 
lyzing the sexual paradigms that frame 
all gender relations and constrain our 
sexual interactions. Pornography im- 
plies that we could find all races, 
genders, ages, and shapes sexually 
interesting, if only in our minds. Com- 
pare this to the pinched reality of a 
liberal ideology that snidely prods us to 
do our own thing against a back- 
ground of political repression. While 
pornography itself is not a critique of 
society, its very existence in such a 
deeply anti-pleasure society speaks to 
an attempt to introduce a non-moral- 
istic view of sexual practice. Of course, 
pornography is not a substitute for 
sexual practice, though it might be an 
addition to it. Even if women were to 
miraculously take over this industry, 
we would only be able to change the 
content so that our masturbatory pleas- 
ure was considered. It would not give 
us permission to act. That permission 
can only come when we accept that 
our desires will not make us victims, 
that our sensuality is not dangerous to 
our well-being. This will inspire us at 
the same time that we work to restruc- 
ture society to be more hospitable to 
our desires. 

My point is that a stance of morali- 
ing about sexual imagery and, by im- 
plication, practice gets us no closer to 
defining how sexual activity and fan- 
tasy fit into our lives or our analysis of 
oppression. If we think that women 



can only be the victims of sex, what 
strategies do we propose for taking 
control and altering this situation? 
Each heterosexually involved woman 
must ask herself if she will continue to 
refuse sexual autonomy and subjec- 
tivity in the name of femininity. 

Perhaps it is premature to call for a 
truly radical feminist pornography- 
erotica. But to speak of our own 
desires and to organize for our own 
and our collective sexual pleasure 
would be a beginning. We could open 
the debate about the nature of female 
sexual desire. It is precisely in the pri- 
vate, secret, and "shameful" realm of 
our own sexuality that we have feared 
to take responsibility for being sub- 
jects. We easily talk about denying 
men pornographic pleasure, but this 
does not bring us closer to gaining our 
own. 

The training we received as girls 
encouraged us to renounce acting on 
our own behalf and for our own pleas- 
ure. Our own sexual desires threatened 
Mom and Dad, and they told us how 
dangerous sex was, especially curiosity 
or experimentation. They warned us 
about men. The good ones would 
protect us and the bad ones would 



exploit us. Now we are hearing these 
same echoes in a feminist campaign. 
Men are lustful and women are loving. 
They are violent and we are peaceful. 
They like rough sex ... we don't. 

Some feminists reject this classifi- 
cation of genders which stresses natu- 
ral, immutable differences. The es- 
sence of male sexuality is not barely 
repressed violence or insatiable besti- 
ality. Nor is female sexuality passive or 
characterized by efficiently sanitized 
longings. As we have come to under- 
stand that women are made and not 
born, we must conclude that men too 
undergo a similar social construction. 
Masculinity and femininity are social 
products that establish but do not 
reveal the true natures of these hierar- 
chically opposed groups. Are we ready 
to give up the eternal enemy and chal- 
lenge our feminization, which leaves us 
mute about our desires for pleasure, 
and so many other things? Once we 
take our eyes off them and renounce 
our obsessive concern with their 
thoughts, feelings, and actions, we can 
move from blaming to assessing our 
vision for change. 

It is time to organize for our pleas- 
ure as well as our protection, to use 




From Wet Satin: Women's 
Erotic Fantasies. Pub- 
lished by Last Gasp. 
© 1976 Shelby Sampson. 



pornographic images to raise con- 
sciousness about our desires and our 
fears. If we can switch our focus from 
men's pleasure to our own, then we 
have the potential of creating the dis- 
course that will challenge the values of 
"good girls" (non-sexual women) and 
explore the bridge that connects and 
divides expression and repression. If 
we could imagine operating without 
all the internal and external constraints 
society has imposed on us, feminists 
might create a truly radical pornog- 
raphy that spoke of female desire as we 
are beginning to know it and as we 
would like to see it acted out. 

My special thanks to Sue Heinemann for a truly 
creative edit. 

1. See Diedre English, "The Politics of Porn," 
Mother Jones, Vol. 5, No. 3 (April 1980), p. 20; 
Ellen Willis, in Village Voice(Oa. 15, 1979). 

2. Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman and the 
Ideology of Pornography (New York: Pantheon, 
1978).' 

Paula Webster, a writer and anthropologist, is 
co-authoring a book called Bound by Love: The 
Contradictions of Femininity (Beacon Press). 



She couldn't make up her mind She couldn't 
figure out who to be What to be Is her 
reality as powerful as her fantasy 




Glenda Hydler. From Purity pink and everything neat (January/February 1978). Glenda Hydler, a writer and photographer, has been living in NYC since 1969. 

51 










Photos by Sandi Fellman 




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I began photographing the women 
who work as prostitutes at Mustane 
Ranch in the summer of 1973. M 
interest grew out of the women's studies' 
courses I was taking and my reading f 
feminist literature, as well as my work 
as a cocktail waitress at Diamond 
Don's, a "topless and bottomless" bar 
There I served drinks to lecherous, un- 
attractive men, while women (some of 
whom were my friends and fellow stu- 
dents) stripped to jukebox music on a 
long stagelit runway. I was fascinated 
by two things: the women's seeming 
ability to mentally distance themselves 
from the reality of the situation and 
the fact that the men left Diamond 
Don's with their pockets empty, while 
the women dancers left each night a 
few hundred dollars richer. I had read 
about the historical and socioeconomic 
factors which created this dynamic, 
but in reality the women did not ap- 
pear to fit the picture of powerless vic- 
tim painted by sociology books and 
some feminists. 

Mustang Ranch claims to be the 
world's largest legalized whorehouse, a 
place where approximately 70 women 
sell sex for a living. I saw it as a perfect 
environment to explore all the ques- 
tions in my mind. After being "offi- 
cially" accepted by Joe Conforte, the 
owner of the ranch, I was given per- 
mission to come and go as I pleased. I 
spent several days just talking and 
breaking the ice. It became clear to me 
that if I was to take photographs that 
meant anything to me, I would have to 
develop friendships and build trust be- 
tween the women and myself. I settled 
into a pattern of spending six to eight 
hours a day at the ranch — most often 
just hanging out, talking, only occa- 
sionally photographing. It happened 
slowly, but the bonds developed. I be- 
gan to feel that the images were joint 
creative efforts, in that I allowed the 
women to present themselves before 
the camera as they wished to be seen. 
They selected their clothing and any 
belongings they wished to be photo- 
graphed with. I chose to photograph 
them in their own rooms, where they 
live and work. They decorate these 
rooms themselves; their tastes and per- 
sonalities are reflected in the environ- 
ments they create. 

As my understanding of the women 
at Mustang grew, I found it impossible 
to generalize about their motivations, 
personal histories, and self-concepts. 
Their experiences and feelings about 
themselves and the world around them 
were quite varied. Yet all the women 

© 1981 Sandi Fellman 



seemed at home in their bodies in a 
very special way. They accepted their 
bodies as beautiful, whatever their 
particular imperfections (whether a 
roll of flab, stretch marks, or an occa- 
sional scar from surgery). This comfort 
and pride in their physical selves mani- 
fested itself in their gestures and body 
language. I found the way they touched 
and caressed themselves and their ease 
in being physical with each other quite 
extraordinary. 

The intimate moments of sharing I 
experienced at Mustang were coun- 
tered by the cool, unromantic business 
of prostitution. When men enter the 
building, an electronic buzzer sounds 
to notify the women of new customers. 
Fifteen to 20 girls scramble to form a 
half -circle, as in the grand finale of a 
beauty pageant. If they' are feeling 
generous, they will sweetly whisper 
their names one by one for the cus- 
tomer. The man then selects the wom- 
an he desires, and they retire to her 
bedroom. There the customer must 
tell the woman what he would like 
done: a straight lay, full french, half 
and half, etc. She then tells him how 
much it will cost and he pays in ad- 
vance. The ranch will accept traveler's 
checks and credit cards. Before fuck- 
ing the "John" is checked for VD and 
his genitals are washed. Kissing on the 
mouth is not allowed. Neither the 
transaction nor the interaction seem 
particularly romantic or even sexy. I 
imagine the real experience falls con- 
siderably short of most people's fanta- 
sies. The women split their daily earn- 
ings 50/50 with the house. They re- 
ceive regular medical attention, are 
fed and groomed, and in general are 
well cared for by the management. 

From the beginning I realized the 
problems in selecting stereotypically 
"female sex objects" as my subject. 
Power, demystification of sex, a wom- 
an's basic right to govern her own 
body, how our economic structure 
contributes to work and life choices, 
whether those choices are made freely 
in the true sense of the word, and 
whether sensuality /sexuality implies 
anti-feminism were some of the many 
issues raised for me at Mustang Ranch. 
My experience made me aware of the 
complexity of these issues, and the fact 
that there are no simple answers. Al- 
though I learned much, many of these 
questions remain open and. unresolved 
for me . 

Sandi Fellman, artist/photographer, shows at 
Witkin and Elise Meyer Galleries (NYC) and Uf- 
ficio dell'arte (Paris). 













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nasi' 





Sandi Fellman 




Batya Weinbaum 



"Oh yes come in. Grin. Oh yes come in. Grin. Grin. 
Come in. Come on right in." 

"Are you taking me in?" 

"Oh yes. We've heard so much about you. Why so and so 
said he read what you said. And so and so mentioned. He 
read what they said you said. And so and so said. He got you 
in bed. You are very good in bed. That's what so and so 
said." 

"Oh I'd say I'm so-so." 

"Why you're turning so red! That's another thing so and 
so said. Now back to your head. Based on what so and so 
said, we'd like to buy it. We'd like to use your head. We'd 
like to try it. Tell me, do you use it in bed?" 

"What did so and so said?" 

"Oh yes. He said you acted that way." 

"Well — I meant to say — I don't always act that way— I 
meant — what — what's the next line in this play?" 

"Well, that's what we're discussing. From what so and so 
said, we could use your head. And since so and so said you 
were so good in bed, we'd certainly like to have you. We'd 
like to make you come. Come come come. Come tell us 
about the books you've read. Come do come while I'm in. 
Grin grin. But— there's one thing — ohum — " 

"What?" 

"Come. Do come. Did you come do do come. Ohum. 
Come come come. What can I say?" 

"Like I said, it's your play." 

"Well, we do want you to come. Especially after all this 
foreplay. But. What can I say?" 

"Look don't ask me what to say. Of course I want you to 
say you'll give me the job. I need the goddamn money. But 
it's not for me to say. That's your part, honey. Figure out 
your own damn lines. You've got the money." 

"Oh come now. We want you to play. Our way. We'd 
give you the job. Make you start. But then — we'd — " 

"We'd what! When do I start? Come on you old fart! 
When do I start? Give me my part! Give me my money!" 



~ 1 

Ski H 




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"tel 






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54 



"Well, we'd want you to move away." 
"What are you trying to say? Move away?" 
"Well, three months after you'd start, we'd move the 
office, very far away, to North Dakota. You'd have to move 
with us, to North Dakota." 

"But I don't know anyone in North Dakota." 
"What can I say?" 

"Why the hell are you moving to North Dakota? I don't 
want to move to North Dakota. I want to stay here. All my 
life. My life is all here. Who do you think I am? Some kind of 
wife? Move wherever you go? 'Cause you give me money? 
Fuck you man. That's not even funny. Now get out of here. 
Later I'll let you know." 

Well, actually you're the one who has to go." 
"Hell no. I won't go. To North Dakota. And you prom- 
ised me all this money. Come on man. You'd better give me 
the money. You were going to take me in. At least you could 
buy me off with money. Didn't so and so tell you? I REALLY 
NEED MONEY!" 

"Yes so and so said you needed bread. You wanna go to 
bed? I'll give you some money. And you could go to North 
Dakota. We could read there in bed everything you've said. 
It would be so nice honey. Come to North Dakota. I'll give 
you money. Come on honey. I want to give you my money." 
"Uh-uh, man. You don't get my life for your money. You 
might get me in bed. You might get my head. But you don't 
get my life for your money. Go read about all the books I've 
read. Go read about what they say I said. Go read it. All in 
bed. With your wife. Eat your money." 
Exit. 

Door slams. 

Screams: GO FUCK YOUR OWN DAMN WIFE. AND 
TAKE HER TO NORTH DAKOTA: YOU DON'T GET 
MY LIFE FOR YOUR MONEY. ONLY MY HEAD, 



Batya Weinbaum is [he author of The Curious Courtship of Women's Lib- 
eration and Socialism (South End Press) and other theoretical writings. 



sraSEsSse 



US 



mMm&mmm W3k 







© 1981 Batya Weinbaum 



all 



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After Mother died, I started eating 
in the dining room with Daddy instead 
of in the kitchen with the kids. I just 
took my plate in one night and sat 
down. I wanted to reach out, to com- 
fort him in our, mutual sadness and 
loneliness, to show he could count on 
me. Maybe out of this shattering oc- 
currence in our lives we could all grow 
closer as a family. Maybe finally he 
could become a real person, a father to 
us, instead of the shadowy figure we 
packed lunchboxes for, ironed cover- 
alls for, giggled about when he hollered 
to "shut up that noise." 

As bad as I felt for myself, I felt 
equally bad or worse for Daddy. Moth- 
er had been his link in so many ways — 
to us kids and to other people in gen- 
eral. He was so uncomfortable all the 
time, except on weekends, when beer 
and bourbon filled his head with fumes 
of courage. At those times his person- 
ality changed and we called him "Red" 
(for the red eyes of drunkenness). He 
became strong then, going on and on 
about things that had happened at the 
warehouse that week. In the telling he 
gave himself better parts to play: "So I 
said to the sonuvabitch 'Kiss my ass," 
and "Then I had to tell this other fool 
off. ..." In this way he coped with all 
the little slights and humiliations that 
come to a smallish Black man who 
doesn't speak much. 

Mother died on October 27, 1965. 
Four days later I was sitting at the 
dining room table with Daddy. We 
were addressing thank-you notes for 
the flowers and cards — at least I was. I 
don't really know what Daddy was 
doing; maybe he was reading the 
paper. That night, October 31st, Hal- 
loween night, my older sister Rita had 
taken the two kids out trick-or-treatin' 
to get their minds off Mother. So Dad- 
dy and I sat at the table alone. We 
were sitting the long way, at opposite 
ends of the table. I was contemplating 
the possible truth of a sympathy card 
that promised I would meet my mother 
again "in that home that lies beyond" 
when he spoke: 

© 1981 Mary Winston 



"What would you say if I asked you 
to sleep with me?" 

I looked up, then down again, con- 
fused and instantly frightened. For the 
first and only time in my life, the tiny 
soft hairs on the back of my neck rose 
slowly, a few at a time. I wished myself 
out of the room, out of my skin, out of 
life. "I would say no." With a slight 
attempt at. . .what?. . .lightness, flip- 
pancy perhaps, I tried to counter the 
paralyzing fear that coated me like a 
second skin. My mind flashed, search- 
ing desperately for something it felt 
was missing: a sense of protection, of 
safety. 

"Well, that's what I thought," he 
said speculatively, "but something told 
me to ask the girl." 

The rest of the evening is a blur. 
Not daring to move, to disturb the 
thickness of the air in the room, I must 
have continued with my writing. In the 
cloudiness that swirled inside my head, 
I think I tried to erase the words and 
the entire conversation (an exercise I 
was to attempt many times afterwards). 
Wishing — no, willing — it had never 
occurred, I nearly believed my will had 
prevailed. As long as it was never men- 
tioned again . . . 

A very short time after that the 
nighttime visits began. Sometimes 
walking softly, sometimes having re- 
moved his artificial leg and therefore 
crawling, he came through the bath- 
room that connected our bedrooms, 
like some mad incarnation of grief, 
pain, and desire. 

"Please, just come and lie in the 
bed. . .it's so empty. . .1 won't bother 
you . . .please." 

"No, Daddy. It's not right. No." 
So this is how it was: I was a 16- 
year-old Black girl, living in a small 
college town, who had lost forever the 
one adult I had loved and trusted 
totally. My life was never to be the 
same again -that I knew for a fact. 
My mother touched the part of me I 
liked best, the part that was not shy. 
Since she was somewhat reserved, I was 
able to be aggressive with her in a fun 



sort of way. Outside of my three sisters, 
she was the only human being who 
really knew me. When we were all 
home together and Daddy wasn't 
around to cast a pall on things with his 
grouchiness, there was a warmth to the 
air and a fullness in my heart that I 
comfortably took for granted, until it 
was suddenly gone one cold night. And 
now the only other person on whom I 
could depend for my protection and 
well-being had decided on the disturb- 
ing course my life was to take for years 
to come. 

Granny and Big Mama lived down- 
stairs in the basement, and they must 
have heard him in the early hours of 
the morning making his slow, steady 
way to my room, especially later when 
I took over Rita's room at the back of 
the house. He was their landlord, how- 
ever, as well as their son and nephew. 
They had to look out for their own 
skins; they were old and he was not 
overly generous. They did tell him 
when I had Michael over, for which 
I was put on punishment (no after- 
school activities). But if they ever 
said anything to him about bothering 
me, I know nothing of it. Before she 
moved out to her own apartment, Rita 
was approached half-heartedly once or 
twice : "Daddy, get out of here ... I ain't 
playin' with you." Somehow her words 
stuck where mine did not. And some- 
how, over the countless weekends, 
Karen and Delores managed to sleep 
through it all, just as they had the 
night Mother was rushed to the hospi- 
tal already dead. 

From age 16 until nearly 20, except 
for the two semesters I lived uptown in 
the dormitory, Daddy and I each 
awaited Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 
nights with different emotions. Mine 
was fear, pure and simple — his, I 
guess, anticipation. He never drank 
during the week — those days we acted 
as if nothing out of the ordinary were 
going on. If he ever despised himself 
for what he was doing, it never showed. 
I began to devise homemade locks for 
the two bedroom doors — pathetic, 

55 



stretchy little things made of nylon 
stockings. He ordered me to remove 
them. . .1 did. I furrowed out hiding 
places in the closet, which I never used 
because I was afraid of being trapped 
inside. Once at 3:30 in the morning I 
calmly walked 10 blocks to Rita's 
apartment. As I pulled the back door 
of our house shut behind me and 
tripped down the stairs, I breathed in 
the fresh cold night air of freedom. I 
wished I would never have to go home 
again. Daddy called the next day and 
ordered me to return within the hour. 
As his campaign of harassment 
mounted, Daddy employed different 
tactics. First he was pleading, begging, 
cajoling: "Just because you read some- 
thing in a textbook that said it's wrong, 
are you going to go by that?" "I 
thought you said you wanted to be a 
social worker." Later he would stumble 
in from lord-knows-where and say, "I 
want something clean," or "I guess you 
remind me of your mother . . . your size 
and all." Then he became the stern 
father, once actually getting into my 
bed when I was in another room and 
then ordering me to come get in also. I 
refused. Still later he played the loving- 
father role, greeting me with, "Come 
give me a hug." I can remember stand- 
ing very still one afternoon while he 
rubbed Vicks on my chest. He made 
me open a few buttons of my shirt so 
he could rub down to the tops of my 
breasts. He insisted on doing it himself 
—so concerned was he for my health 
that he couldn't trust me to do it my- 
self. 

Late one Saturday night I sat on 
one of the twin beds in the kids' room 
watching a movie on TV. On the 
screen a pale, flaccid white man with a 
bad case of asthma was muttering into 
a phone, threatening a woman on the 
other end. Later in the movie, he kid- 
napped the woman's younger sister and 
made her strip so he could send her 




clothes as proof that she was with him. 
Looking at the girl standing there, so 
young and soft in only her bra and 
panties, the man started getting other 
ideas. I sat quietly, drawn into the set, 
despising the girl who wore fear on her 
face so blatantly. I wished the wheez- 
ing man, who in his powerfulness had 
somehow become attractive, would do 
everything he wanted to her -would 
make her cry and then laugh cruelly at 
her pitiful weakness. Daddy came into 
the room and stood behind me. 

"Here, take this." It was a highball 
he was holding out to me — not offer- 
ing it but shoving it at me. I could 
smell the strong liquor and guessed the 
drink was almost straight alcohol. He 
had never let me drink before; the issue 
had never even come up, so out of the 
question was it. 

"I don't want that," I said, not tak- 
ing my eyes off the TV. 

His voice was thoughtful, musing: 
"Now I said to myself, 'I could get the 
girl drunk, or I could choke her lightly 
just until she went out.' " 

I had always been afraid, but the 
fear had come from feeling the ground 
shift under my feet as my most basic 
beliefs were relentlessly challenged. 
Now my fear was physical. Daddy was 
talking rape -and worse. The rules 
had suddenly changed: there were no 
rules. I began to think he was insane 
and therefore capable of anything. 
That was the night I walked to Rita's 
apartment. Rita talked to her boss — a 
white man -who said that unless Dad- 
dy had actually touched me (which he 
hadn't), there was nothing to be done 
legally. He suggested we talk to our 
minister. I thought of Reverend Cyp- 
rus, a dried-out old turtle of a Negro 
who didn't even know me, so rare were 
our visits to church. Daddy either over- 
heard us talking or guessed what Rita 
had done, or maybe he just predicted 
what we might do. In his authoritative 
father's voice, he warned us about 
.. "putting family business in the street" 
and involving white people in our 
affairs. 

The Christmas of the first year I 
was in the dormitory Daddy gave me a 
Panasonic radio. It was made of wood 
and was very nice. When he was get- 
ting ready to drive me back to school, 
he said, "I didn't get what / wanted for 
Christmas," and for a fraction of a 
second before his meaning sunk in, I 
was wildly hopeful there was some par- 
ticular thing I could buy for him, 
thereby putting an end to his desperate 
pursuit. 



56 



In remembering those years, I have 
a sense of being pulled constantly i n 
many different directions. Knowi nR 
there was no chance I would willing.] 
give in to Daddy, I counted on some 
paternal instinct that must still exist 
inside him which would not allow him 
to attack me outright. And I f e ] t 
strongly protective of Karen and De- 
lores, even more so after Rita moved 
out. I must be there to see that as 
they matured they were not subjected 
to the same sexual pressure that was 
directed at me. Then, too, what would 
happen if I did get up my nerve and 
make the first steps toward prosecuting 
him? Rita was only two years older 
than I, and surely she would not be 
allowed to have custody of the three of 
us. Life with Granny and Big Mama 
was unthinkable; it would be too dif- 
ferent from what we knew. Would we 
be split up into foster homes? Beyond 
the need to find a solution to my prob- 
lem with Daddy, the need to somehow 
keep the remaining family together 
asserted itself at all times. And always 
I felt myself mourning the loss not only 
of a mother, but of a father as well. 

I lived with this situation for nearly 
four years of my life, years in which 
young girls develop crushes and find 
boyfriends and get involved in healthy 
sex. Although I was very loose with my 
body when I dated, I was technically a 
virgin until I was 22. I was so tight and 
tense that I could not be entered. But 
no man could call me a tease or a 
prude, because, after all, wasn't I will- 
ing, even eager, to get into bed with 
him? Underneath it all, however, I 
knew whose side I was on, and I secret- 
ly applauded my unyielding body. I 
was 21 when I gave in carelessly to a 
Chicano I met in a bar one night. I 
don't remember how it felt to finally 
complete the sex act, because I was 
going into the second of a series of ner- 
vous breakdowns that I suffered be- 
tween the ages of 21 and 25. 

I am better now, living all the way 
across the country, going to school, 
trying to find my path and move for- 
ward. My father is married again, and 
he and I have a kind of truce. He is no 
longer openly angry at me for the 
things I said and did to him when I was 
"flipping out" — things like bringing 
men to his house and threatening him: 
"You're gonna pay for what you did to 
me, Daddy." And once when he tried 
to put me out of my grandmother's 
house, saying, "You're not going to hide 
behind my mother," I shouted, "You 
hid behind mine." Then I ran and got 



'e 
n 
S 

y 

e 

;t 
i 
t 

i 
s 
1 



a knife because he lunged for me with 
such intense anger that I feared for my 
safety. It was ugly — abysmally, eternal- 
ly ugly. 

As strange as this might sound, I 
would like to make some kind of peace 
with him before he dies — for myself— 
so I won't have to suffer guilt pains. 
Yet this rage holds me back. My sense 
of justice demands some kind of apol- 
ogy, or at least an acknowledgment of 
the deliberate disruption of my life. 
The few men I have shared this part of 




my past with seem to think I exagger- 
ate my pain and my father's responsi- 
bility for my confusion about sex. One 
lover told me that what happened 
wasn't such a big deal; after all, the 
man had just lost his wife, he only had 
one leg, etc., etc. But my confusion is 
real and ever-present. To me, men 
seem a breed of aliens. Not only do I 
not understand them, but I am terri- 
fied of them as well. And many times 
my behavior insists they prove their 
unworthiness to me just so I will know I 





am right — they are all corrupt. I don't 
want it to be this way, however, and 
my therapist assures me that once we 
get to the bottom of this misty, dank 
swamp I will be able to view men real- 
istically, without terror and contempt. 
Lord, I sure hope she is right. 



Mary Winston, a writing student at Columbia 
University, spends as much time as possible in 
the sun, preferably Caribbean, laughing as loud 
and often as she can. 





The collective's decision not to 
focus on reproductive or adolescent 
sexuality creates, for some of us, a seri- 
ous gap. For many of us, the sexual 
revolution of the sixties is accepted as 
fact. From the media, we conclude 
that teenagers today exist in an atmos- 
phere of permissive sexuality where 
virginity is passe. With the availability 
of contraceptives, the rise in teenage 
pregnancy is seen as a conscious choice 
among young women rather than the 
result of ignorance. Perhaps in its eag- 
erness to assume that teenaged women 
are acting out of a greater sense of sex- 
ual freedom, feminism has done little 
to investigate current sexual mores and 
note the real heritage of the sexual 
revolution. 

From working as a Planned Parent- 
hood birth control counselor, holding 
discussions among my freshmen soci- 
ology students, and interviewing teen- 
aged mothers, I can offer the following 
observations: Virginity is still a big 
issue among teenagers. Many teenagers 
do not make a distinction between love 
and "sexual appetite." Waiting for the 
perfect lover and hoping to avoid con- 
fusion are still cited as reasons for 
"holding on to one's virginity." Sexual 
desire or pleasure, however, is not an 
issue. Girls who do it out of love tend 
not to be concerned with how it feels, 
nor are they concerned with using sex 
to negotiate for what they want. Young 
women most often say that they have 



sex because they are in love; perhaps 
indicative of a sincere respect for ro- 
mance. 

Becoming a sexual person, how- 
ever, inevitably forces young women to 
confront reproduction, and fear of 
pregnancy combined with the prob- 
lems of getting birth control are cen- 
tral concerns. In spite of this, there is 
an unwillingness to connect having sex 
with getting pregnant. Young women 
may conclude that although sex is 
something they want, it isn't something 
they can comfortably plan for. It might 
tell others that they were loose — 
tramps; and many teenaged girls are 
still very worried about their reputa- 



tions. This ambivalence toward sexu- 
ality may be the result of society's con- 
tinued unwillingness to see intercourse 
as acceptable for teenagers. 

These observations contrast sharply 
with the idea of sexual change. It ap- 
pears that sexual mores among teen- 
agers today conform closely to those of 
past generations. The good girl/bad 
girl taboos of the past continue to 
haunt today's teenagers, overshadow- 
ing their fears of pregnancy and the 
enjoyment of their so-called "sexual 
freedom." If feminism is ever to undo 
this pattern, it must become aware of 
the problems facing teenagers today. 




57 




Amber Hollibaugh and Cherrie Moraga 

This article was derived from a series of conversations we entertained for many months. Through it, we wish to 
illuminate both our common and different relationship to a feminist movement to which we are both committed 

The Critique 

In terms of sexual issues, it seems feminism has fallen short of its original intent. The whole notion of "the 
personal is political" which surfaced in the early part of the movement (and which many of us have used to an 
extreme) is suddenly and ironically dismissed when we begin to discuss sexuality. We have become a relatively 
sophisticated movement, so many women think they now have to have the theory before they expose the experi- 
ence. It seems we simply did not take our.feminism to heart enough. This most privatized aspect of ourselves, our 
sex lives, has dead-ended into silence within the feminist movement. 

Feminism has never directly addressed women's sexuality except in its most oppressive aspects in relation to 
men (e.g., marriage, the nuclear family, wife battering, rape, etc.). Heterosexuality is both an actual sexual 
interaction and a system. No matter how we play ourselves out sexually, we are all affected by the system inasmuch 
as our sexual values are filtered through a society where heterosexuality is considered the norm. It is difficult to 
believe that there is anyone in the world who hasn't spent some time in great pain over the choices and limitations 
which that system has forced on all of us. We all suffer from heterosexism every single day (whether we're con- 
scious of it or not). And as long as that's true, men and women, women and women, men and men — all different 
kinds of sexual combinations — must fight against this system, if we are ever going to perceive ourselves as sexually 
profitable and loving human beings. 

By analyzing the institution of heterosexuality through feminism, we learned what's oppressive about it and why 
people cooperate with it or don't, but we didn't learn what's sexual. We don't really know, for instance, why men 
and women are still attracted to each other, even through all that oppression, which we know to be true. There is 
something genuine that happens between heterosexuals, but which gets perverted in a thousand different ways. 
There is heterosexuality outside of heterosexism. 

What grew out of this kind of "non-sexual" theory was a "transcendent" definition of sexuality where lesbian- 
ism (since it exists outside the institution of heterosexuality) came to be seen as the practice of feminism. It set up a 
"perfect" vision of egalitarian sexuality, where we could magically leap over our heterosexist conditioning into 
mutually orgasmic, struggle-free, trouble-free sex. We feel this vision has become both misleading and damaging 
to many feminists, but in particular to lesbians. Who created this sexual model as a goal in the first place? Who 
can really live up to such an ideal? There is little language, little literature that reflects the actual sexual struggles 
of most lesbians, feminist or not. 

The failure of feminism to answer all the questions regarding women, in particular women's sexuality, is the 
same failure the homosexual movement suffers from around gender. It's a confusing of those two things— that 
some of us are both female and homosexual — that may be the source of some of the tension between the two 
movements and of the inadequacies of each. When we walk down the street, we are both female and lesbian. We 
are working-class white and working-class Chicana. We are all these things rolled into one and there is no way to 
eliminate even one aspect of ourselves. 



The Conversation 

CM: In trying to develop sexual theory, 
I think we should start by talking about 
what we're rollin around in bed with. 
We both agree that the way feminism 
has dealt with sexuality has been en- 
tirely inadequate. 

AH: Right. Sexual theory has tradi- 
tionally been used to say people have 
been forced to be this thing; people 
could be that thing. And you're left 
standing in the middle going, "Well, I 

58 



am here; and I don't know how to get 
there." It hasn't been able to talk real- 
istically about what people are sexually. 
I think by focusing on roles in les- 
bian relationships, we can begin to un- 
ravel who we really are in bed. When 
you hide how profoundly roles can 
shape your sexuality, you can use that 
as an example of other things that get 
hidden. There's a lot of different things 
that shape the way that people respond 



—some not so easy to see, some more 
forbidden, as I perceive S/M to be. 
Like with S/M — when I think of it I'm 
frightened; why? Is it because I might 
be sexually fascinated with it and I 
don't know how to accept that? Who 
am I there? The point is, that when 
you deny that roles, S/M, fantasy, or 
any sexual differences exist in the first 
place, you can only come up with neu- 
tered sexuality, where everybody's got 

© 1981 Amber Hollibaugh, Cherrie Moraga 



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t o be basically the same because any- 
thing different puts the element of 
power and deviation in there and 
threatens the whole picture. 
CM: Exactly. Remember how I told 
you that growing up what turned me 
n sexually, at a very early age, had to 
do with the fantasy of capture, taking 
a woman, and my identification was 
with the man, taking? Well, something 
like that would be so frightening to 
bring up in a feminist context. . .fear- 
ing people would put it in some sicko 
sexual box. And yet, the truth is, I do 
have some real gut-level misgivings 
about my sexual connection with cap- 
ture. It might feel very sexy to imagine 
"taking" a woman, but it has some- 
times occurred at the expense of my 
feeling, sexually, like I can surrender 
myself to a woman; that is, always 
needing to be the one in control, callin 
the shots. It's a very butch trip and I 
feel like this can keep me private and 
protected and can prevent me from 
fully being able to express myself. 
AH: But it's not wrong, in and of it- 
self, to have a capture fantasy. The 
real question is: Does it actually limit 
you? For instance, does it allow you to 
eroticize someone else, but never see 
yourself as erotic? Does it keep you 
always in control? Does the fantasy 
force you into a dimension of sexuality 
that feels very narrow to you? If it 
causes you to look at your lover in only 
one light, then you may want to check 
it out. But if you can't even dream 
about wanting a woman in this way in 
the first place, then you can't figure 
out what is narrow and heterosexist in 
'I: it and what's just play. After all, it's 
only one fantasy. 

CM: Well, what I think is very danger- 
% ous about keeping down such fantasies 
f: is that they are forced to stay uncon- 
?: j scious. Then, next thing you know, in 
the actual sexual relationship, you be- 
come the capturer, that is, you try to 
have power over your lover, psycho- 
logically or whatever. If the desire for 
power is so hidden and unacknowl- 



edged, it will inevitably surface 
through manipulation or what-have- 
you. If you couldn't play capturer, 
you'd be it. 

AH: Part of the problem in talking 
about sexuality is it's so enormous in 
our culture that people don't have any 
genuine sense of dimension. So that 
when you say "capture," every fantasy 
you've ever heard of from Robin Hood 
to colonialism comes racing into your 
mind and all you really maybe wanted 
to do was have your girlfriend lay you 
down. 

But in feminism, we can't even ex- 
plore these questions because what 
they say is, in gender, there is a mascu- 
line oppressor and a female oppressee. 
So whether you might fantasize your- 
self in a role a man might perform or a 
woman in reaction to a man, this 
makes you sick, fucked-up, and you 
had better go and change it. 

If you don't speak of fantasies, they 
become a kind of amorphous thing 
that envelops you and hangs over your 
relationship and you get terrified by 
the silence. If you have no way to de- 
scribe what your desire is and what 
your fear is, you have no way to nego- 
tiate with your lover. And I guarantee 
you, six months or six years later, the 
relationship has paid. Things that are 
kept private and hidden become pain- 
ful and deformed. 

When you say that part of your sex- 
uality has been hooked up with cap- 
ture, I want to say that absolutely 
there's a heterosexist part of that, but 
what part of that is just plain dealing 
with power, sexually? I don't want to 
live outside of power in my sexuality, 
but I don't want to be trapped into a 
heterosexist concept of power either. 
But what I feel feminism asks of me is 
to throw the baby out with the bath- 
water. 

For example, / think the reason 
butch/ femme stuff got hidden within 
lesbian-feminism is because people are 
profoundly afraid of questions of pow- 
er in bed. And though everybody 



doesn't play out power the way I do, 
the question of power affects who and 
how you eroticize your sexual need. 
And it is absolutely at the bottom of all 
sexual inquiry. I can't say to you, for 
instance, I am trying to work through 
bein a femme, so I won't have to be 
one anymore. 

CM: But what is femme to you? I told 
you once that what I thought of as 
femme was passive, unassertive, etc., 
and you didn't fit that image. And you 
said to me, "Well, change your defini- 
tion of femme. " 

AH: My fantasy life is deeply involved 
in a butch/femme exchange. I never 
come together with a woman, sexually, 
outside of those roles. Femme is active, 
not passive. It's saying to my partner, 
"Love me enough to let me go where I 
need to go and take me there. Don't 
make me think it through. Give me a 
way to be so in my body that I don't 
have to think; that you can fantasize 
for the both of us. You map it out. You 
are in control." 

It's hard to talk about things like 
giving up power without it sounding 
passive. I am willing to give myself 
over to a woman equal to her amount 
of wanting. I expose myself for her to 
appreciate. I open myself out for her 
to see what's possible for her to love in 
me that's female. I want her to respond 
to it. I may not be doing something 
active with my body, but more eroti- 
cizing her need that I feel in her hands 
as she touches me. 

In the same way, as a butch, you 
want and conceive of a woman in a 
certain way. You dress a certain way to 
attract her and you put your sexual 
need within these certain boundaries 
to communicate that desire. .. .And 
yet, there's a part of me that feels 
maybe all this is not even a question of 
roles. Maybe it's much richer territory 
than that. 

CM: Yes, I feel the way I want a wom- 
an can be a very profound experience. 
Remember I told you how when I 
looked up at my lover's face when I was 



j 




making love to her (I was actually just 
kissing her breast at the moment), but 
when I looked up at her face, I could 
feel and see how deeply every part of 
her was present? That every pore in 
her body was entrusting me to handle 
her, to take care of her sexual desire. 
This look on her face is like nothing 
else. It fills me up. She entrusts me to 
determine where she'll go sexually. 
And I honestly feel a power inside me 
strong enough to heal the deepest 
wound. 

AH: Well, I can't actually see what I 
look like, but I can feel it in my lover's 
hands when I look the way you de- 
scribed. When I open myself up more 
and more to her sensation of wanting a 
woman, when I eroticize that in her, I 
feel a kind of ache in my body, but it's 
not an ache to do something. I can feel 
a hurt spot and a need and it's there 
and it's just the tip of it, the tip of that 
desire and that is what first gets played 
with, made erotic. It's light and play- 
ful. It doesn't commit you to exposing 
a deeper part of yourself sexually. 
Then I begin to pick up passion. And 
the passion isn't butch or femme. It's 
just passion. 

But from this place, if it's working, 
I begin to imagine myself being the 
woman that a woman always wanted. 
That's what I begin to eroticize. That's 
what I begin to feel from my lover's 
hands. I begin to fantasize myself be- 
coming more and more female in or- 
der to comprehend and meet what I 
feel happening in her body. I don't 
want her not to be female to me. Her 
need is female, but it's butch because I 
am asking her to expose her desire 
through the movement of her hands on 
my body and I'll respond. I want to 
give up power in response to her need. 
This can feel profoundly powerful and 
very unpassive. 

A lot of times how I feel it in my 
body is I feel like I have this fantasy of 
pulling a woman's hips into my cunt. I 
can feel the need painfully in another 
woman's body. I can feel the impact 
and I begin to play and respond to that 
hunger and desire. And I begin to 
eroticize the fantasy that she can't get 
enuf of me. It makes me want to en- 
flame my body. What it feels like is 
that I'm in my own veins and I'm send- 
ing heat up into my thighs. It's very 
hot. 

CM: Oh honey, she feels the heat, too. 
AH: Yes, and I am making every part 
of my body accessible to that woman. I 
completely trust her. There's no place 
she cannot touch me. My body is liter- 

60 



ally open to any way she interprets her 
sexual need. My power is that I know 
how to read her inside of her own pas- 
sion. I can hear her. It's like a sexual 
language; it's a rhythmic language 
that she uses her hands for. My body is 
completely in sync with a lover, but 
I'm not deciding where she's gonna 
touch me. 

CM: But don't you ever fantasize your- 
self being on the opposite end of that 
experience? 

AH: Well, not exactly in the same 
way, because with butches you can't 
insist on them giving up their sexual 
identity. You have to go through that 
identity to that other place. That's why 
roles are so significant and you can't 
throw them out. You have to find a 
way to use them, so you can eventually 
release your sexuality into other do- 
mains that you may feel the role traps 
you in. But you don't have to throw 
out the role to explore the sexuality. 
There are femme ways to orchestrate 
sexuality. I'm not asking a woman not 
to be butch. I am asking her to let me 
express the other part of my own char- 
acter, where I am actively orchestrat- 
ing what's happening. I never give up 
my right to say that I can insist on 
what happens sexually. . . . Quite often 
what will happen is I'll simply seduce 
her. Now, that's very active. The se- 
duction can be very profound, but it's 
a seduction as a femme. 
CM: What comes to my mind is some- 
thing as simple as you comin over and 
sittin on her lap. Where a butch, well, 
she might just go for your throat if she 
wants you. 

AH: Oh yes, different areas for differ- 
ent roles! What's essential is that your 
attitude doesn't threaten the other per- 
son's sexual identity, but plays with it. 
That's what good seduction is all 
about. I play a lot in that. It's not that 
I have to have spike heels on in order 
to fantasize who I am. Now that's just 
a lot of classist shit, conceiving of 
femme in such a narrow way. 
CM: Well, I would venture to say that 
some of these dynamics that you're de- 
scribing happen between most lesbi- 
ans, only they may both be in the same 
drag of flannel shirts and jeans. My 
feeling, however, is. . .and this is very 
hard for me. . . what I described earlier 
about seeing my lover's face entrusting 
me like she did, well, I want her to 
take me to that place, too. 
AH: Yes, but you don't want to have 
to deny your butchness to get there. 
Right? 
CM: Well, that's what's hard. To be 



butch, to me, is not to be a woman 
The classic extreme-butch stereotype is 
the woman who sexually refuses an- 
other woman to touch her. It g oes 
something like this: She doesn't want 
to feel her femaleness because she 
thinks of you as the "real" woman and 
if she makes love to you, she doesn't 
have to feel her own body as the object 
of desire. She can be a kind of "bodiless 
lover. " So when you turn over and 
want to make love to her and make her 
feel physically like a woman, then what 
she is up against is QUEER. You are a 
woman making love to her. She feels 
queerer than anything in that. Get it? 
AH: Got it. Whew! 

CM: / believe that probably from a 
very early age the way you conceived of 
yourself as female has been very differ- 
ent from me. We both have pain, but I 
think that there is a particular pain at- 
tached if you identified yourself as a 
butch queer from an early age as I did. 
I didn't really think of myself as fe- 
male, or male. I thought of myself as 
this hybrid or somethin. I just kinda 
thought of myself as this free agent 
until I got tits. Then I thought, oh oh, 
some problem has occurred here. . . . 
For me, the way you conceive of your- 
self as a woman and the way I am at- 
tracted to women sexually reflect that 
butch/ femme exchange — where a 
woman believes herself so woman that 
it really makes me want her. 

But for me, I feel a lot of pain 
around the fact that it has been diffi- 
cult for me to conceive of myself as 
thoroughly female in that sexual way. 
So retaining my "butchness" is not ex- 
actly my desired goal. Now that, in 
itself, is probably all heterosexist bull- 
shit — about what a woman is supposed 
to be in the first place — but we are 
talkin about the differences between 
the way you and I conceive of ourselves 
as sexual beings. 

AH: I think it does make a difference. 
I would argue that a good femme does 
not play to the part of you that hates 
yourself for feelin like a man, but to 
the part of you that knows you're a 
woman. Because it's absolutely critical 
to understand that femmes are women 
to women and dykes to men in the 
straight world. You and I are talkin 
girl to girl. We're not talkin what I was 
in straight life. 

I was ruthless with men, sexually, 
around what I felt. It was only with 
women I couldn 't avoid opening up my 
need to have something more than an 
orgasm. With a woman, I can't refuse 
to know that the possibility is just there 



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that she'll reach me some place very 
deeply each time we make love. That's 
part of my fear of being a lesbian. I 
can't refuse that possibility with a 
woman. 

You see, I want you as a woman, 
not as a man; but, I want you in the 
way you need to be, which may not be 
traditionally female, but which is the 
area that you express as butch. Here is 
where in the other world you have suf- 
fered the most damage. My feeling is 
part of the reason I love to be with 
butches is because I feel I repair that 
damage. I make it right to want me 
that hard. Butches have not been al- 
lowed to feel their own desire because 
that part of butch can be perceived by 
the straight world as male. I feel I get 
back my femaleness and give a differ- 
ent definition of femaleness to a butch 
as a femme. That's what I mean about 
one of those unexplored territories that 
goes beyond roles, but goes through 
roles to get there. 

CM: How I fantasize sex roles has been 
really different for me with different 
women. I do usually enter into an erot- 
ic encounter with a woman from the 
kind of butch place you described, but 
I have also felt very ripped off there, 
finding myself taking all the sexual re- 
sponsibility. I am seriously attracted to 
butches sometimes. It's a different dy- 
namic, where the, sexuality may not 
seem as fluid or comprehensible, but I 
know there's a huge part of me that 
wants to be handled in the way I de- 
scribed I can handle another woman. I 
am very compelled toward that "lover" 
posture. I have never totally reckoned 
with being the "beloved" and, frankly, 
I don't know if it takes a butch or a 
femme or what to get me there. I know 
that it's a struggle within me and it 
scares the shit out of me to look at it so 
directly. I've done this kind of search- 
ing emotionally, but to combine sex 
with it seems like very dangerous stuff. 
AH: Well, I think everybody has as- 
pects of roles in their relationships, but 
I feel pretty out there on the extreme 
end. ... I think what feminism did, in 
its fear of heterosexual control of fan- 
tasy, was to say that there was almost 
no fantasy safe to have, where you 
weren't going to have to give up power 
or take it. There's no sexual fantasy I 
can think of that doesn't include some 
aspect of that. But I feel like I have 
been forced to give up some of my 
richest potential sexually in the way 
feminism has defined what is, and 
what's not, "politically correct" in the 
sexual sphere. 



CM: Oh, of course when most femin- 
ists talk about sexuality, including les- 
bianism, they're not talkin about De- 
sire. It is significant to me that I came 
out only when I met a good feminist , al- 
though I knew I was queer since eight or 
nine. That's only when I'd risk it be- 
cause I wouldn 't have to say it 's because 
I want her. I didn't have to say that 
when she travels by me, my whole body 
starts throbbing. 
AH: Yes, it's just correct. 
CM: It was okay to be with her because 
we all knew men were really fuckers 
and there were a lot of "okay" women 
acknowledging that. Read: white and 
educated. . . .But that's not why I 
"came out. " How could I say that I 
wanted women so bad, I was gonna die 
if I didn't get me one, soon! You know, 
I just felt the pull in the hips,' right? 
AH: Yes, really. . . .Well, the first dis- 
cussion I ever heard of lesbianism 
among feminists was: "We've been sex 
objects to men and where did it get us? 
And here when we're just learning how 
to be friends with other women, you 
got to go and sexualize it." That's what 
they said! "Fuck you. Now I have to 
worry about you looking down my 
blouse." That's exactly what they 
meant. It horrified me. "No no no," I 
wanted to say, "that's not me. I prom- 
ise I'll only look at the sky. Please let 
me come to a meeting. I'm really okay. 
I just go to the bars and fuck like a 
rabbit with women who want me. You 
know?" 

Now from the onset, how come 
feminism was so invested in that? They 
would not examine sexual need with 
each other except as oppressor/oppres- 
see. Whatever your experience was you 
were always the victim. Even if you 
were the aggressor. So how do dykes fit 
into that? Dykes who wanted tits, you 
know? 

Now a lot of women have been sex- 
ually terrorized and this makes sense, 
their needing not to have to deal with 
explicit sexuality, but they made men 
out of every sexual dyke. "Oh my god, 
she wants me, too!" 

So it became this really repressive 
movement, where you didn't talk dirty 
and you didn't want dirty. It really be- 
came a bore. So after meetings, we ran 
to the bars. You couldn't talk about 
wanting a woman, except very loftily. 
You couldn't say it hurt at night want- 
ing a woman to touch you. . . .1 re- 
member at one meeting breaking 
down after everybody was talking 
about being a lesbian very delicately. I 
began crying. I remember saying, "I 



can't help it. I just . . .want her. I want 
to feel her." And everybody forgiving 
me. It was this atmosphere of me exor- 
cising this crude sexual need for 
women. 

CM: Shit, Amber. . .1 remember be- 
ing 14 years old and there was this girl, 
a few years older than me, who I had 
this crush on. And. on the last day of 
school, I knew I wasn't going to see her 
for months! We had hugged good-bye 
and I went straight home. Going into 
my bedroom, I got into my unmade 
bed and I remember getting the sheets, 
winding them into a kind of rope, and 
pulling them up between my legs and 
just holding them there under my chin. 
I just sobbed and sobbed because I 
knew I couldn't have her, maybe never 
have a woman to touch. It's just pure 
need and it's whole. It's like using sex- 
uality to describe how deeply you 
need/want intimacy, passion, love. 

Most women are not immune from 
experiencing pain in relation to their 
sexuality, but certainly lesbians experi- 
ence a particular pain and oppression. 
Let us not forget, although feminism 
would sometimes like us to, that lesbi- 
ans are oppressed. in this world. Possib- 
ly, there are some of us who came out 
through the movement who feel im- 
mune to "queer attack, " but not the 
majority of us (no matter when we 
came out), particularly if you have no 
economic buffer in this society. If you 
have enough money and privilege, you 
can separate yourself from heterosexist 
oppression. You can be sapphic or 
somethin, but you don't have to be 
queer. It's easier to clean up your act 
and avoid feelin like a freak if you have 
a margin in this society because you've 
got bucks. 

The point I am trying to make is 
that I believe most of us harbor plenty 
of demons and old hurts inside our- 
selves around sexuality. I know, for 
me, that each time I choose to touch 
another woman, to make love with 
her, I feel I risk opening up that secret, 
harbored, vulnerable place. . . . I think 
why feminism has been particularly 
attractive to many "queer" lesbians is 
that it kept us in a place where we 
wouldn't have to look at our pain 
around sexuality anymore. Our sisters 
would just sweep us up into a move- 
ment. . . 

AH: Yes, we're not just accusing femi- 
nism of silence, but our own participa- 
tion in that silence has stemmed from 
our absolute terror of facing that pro- 
found sexual need. Period. 

There is no doubt in my mind that 

61 



femme. I have a personal fury. The 
more I got in touch with how I felt 
about women, what made me desire 
and desirable, the more I felt outside 
the feminist community and that was 
just terrifying because, on the one 
hand, it had given me so much. I loved 
it. And then, I couldn't be who I was. 
I felt that about class, too. I could de- 
scribe my feelings about being a wom- 
an, but if I described it from my own 
class, using that language, my experi- 
ence wasn't valid. I don't know what to 
do with my anger, particularly around 
sexuality. 

CM: Well, you've gotta be angry. . . . I 
mean what you were gonna do is turn 
off the tape, so we'd have no record of 
your being mad. What comes out of 
anger. . . if you, one woman, can say I 
have been a sister all these years and 
you have not helped me. . . that speaks 
more to the failure of all that theory 
and rhetoric than more theory and 
rhetoric. 

AH: Yeah. . . .Remember that night 
you and me and M. was at the bar and 



we were talkin about roles? She told 
you later that the reason she had 
checked out of the conversation was 
because she knew how much it w 
hurting me to talk about it. You know^ 
I can't tell you what it meant to me for 
her to know that. The desperation we 
all felt at that table talking about sexu- 
ality was so great, wanting people to 
understand why we are the way we are 
CM: / know. . . . I remember how at 
that forum on S/M that happened last 
spring, how that Samois* woman came 
to the front of the room and spoke very 
plainly and clearly about feeling that 
through S/M she was really coping 
with power struggles in a tangible way 
with her lover. That this time, for 
once, she wasn't leaving the relation- 
ship. I can't write her off. I believed 
her. I believed she was a woman in 
struggle. 

And as feminists , Amber, you and 
I are interested in struggle. 



*Samois is a lesbian-feminist S/M group in the 
San Francisco Bay Area. 



the feminist movement has radically 
changed, in an important way, every- 
body's concept of lesbianiam. Every- 
body across the board. There's not a 
dyke in the world today (in or out of 
the bars) who can have the same con- 
versation that she could have had 10 
years ago. It seeps through the water 
system or somethin, you know? Lesbi- 
anism is certainly accepted in femi- 
nism, but more as a political or intel- 
lectual concept. It seems feminism is 
the last rock of conservatism. It will 
not be sexualized. It's prudish in that 
way. . . . 

Well, I won't give my sexuality up 
and I won't not be a feminist. So I'll 
build a different movement, but I 
won't live without either one. 

Sometimes, I don't know how to 
handle how angry I feel about femi- 
nism. We may disagree on this. We 
have been treated in some similar ways, 
but our relationship to feminism has 
been different. Mine is a lot longer. I 
really have taken a lot more shit than 
you have, specifically around being 

The Challenge 

We would like to suggest that, in terms of dealing with sexual issues both personally and politically women 
go back to CR groups. We believe that women must create sexual theory in the same way we created feminist 
theory We need to simply get together in places where people agree to suspend their sexual values, so that all of us 
can feel free to say what we do sexually or want to do or have done to us. We do have fear of using feelings as 
theory. We do not mean to imply that feelings are everything. They can, however, be used as the beginning to 
form a movement which can politically deal with sexuality in a broad-based, cross-cultural way 

We believe our racial and class backgrounds have a huge effect in determining how we perceive ourselves 
sexually. Since we are not a movement that is working-class-dominated or a movement that is Third World we 
both hold serious reservations as to how this new CR will be conceived. In our involvement in a movement largely 
controlled by white middle-class women, we feel that the values of their cultures (which may be more closely tied 
to an American-assimilated puritanism) have been pushed down our throats. The questions arise then- Whose 
feelings and whose values will be considered normative in these CR groups? If there is no room for criticism in 
sexual discussion around race and class issues, we foresee ourselves being gut-checked from the beginning 

We also believe our class and racial backgrounds have a huge effect in determining how we involve ourselves 
politically. For instance, why is it that it is largely white middle-class women who form the visible leadership in the 
anti-porn movement? This is particularly true in the Bay Area, where the focus is less on actual violence against 
women and more on sexist ideology and imagery in the media. Why are women of color not particularly visible 
m this sex-related smgle-issue movement? It's certainly not because we are not victims of pornography 

More working-class and Third World women can be seen actively engaged in sex-related issues that directly 
affect the hfe-and-death concerns of women (abortion, sterilization abuse, health care, welfare, etc.). It's not like 
we choose this kind of activism because it's an "ideologically correct" position, but because we are the ones preg- 
nant at 16 (straight and lesbian), whose daughters get pregnant at 16, who get left by men without childcare, who 
are self-supporting lesbian mothers with no childcare, and who sign forms to have our tubes tied because we can't 
read English. But these kinds of distinctions between classes and colors of women are seldom absorbed by the 
feminist movement as it stands to date. 

Essentially, we are challenging other women and ourselves to look where we haven't (this includes through 
and beyond our class and color) in order to arrive at a synthesis of sexual thought that originates and develops 
from our varied backgrounds and experiences. We refuse to be debilitated one more time around sexuality, race, 
or class. 



fuTtural ^rL^f^T^'f t y * ■ h^/ '^^ ° f aCtiviSm ' ' S P**"" 1 ? ™ edk ° r for Socia&t Re ™ w - Chem ' c M °™ga, * Chicana poet, essayist, and 
cultural worker, is co-editor of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Co/or (Persephone). 

62 



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Sylvia Witts Vitale 



Of course we all know that Black 
people have no problems. Our men 
have big dicks and know how to use 
them well. Our women are well en- 
dowed and hot in bed. Black sexuality 
is surrounded by so many myths, reali- 
ties, half-truths, racist influences, 
capitalistic influences, classist influ- 
ences, and resistance that it is neces- 
sary to break some of this down so that 
we can look clearly at the dynamics of 
all of these factors. 

According to the pedagogy of the 
oppressed, the oppressed seem to some- 









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© 1981 Sylvia Witts Vitale 



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how take on the ideology of the op- 
pressor. In the case of Black sexuality, 
Black people seem to have taken on 
some stereotypes created by the ig- 
norance and racism of whites. Those 
very forces that in so many ways were 
used to shackle the freedom of our 
expression have been used by us to 
help foster our own problems in deal- 
ing with our sexuality. In other words, 
myths surround Black sexuality — if we 
search for the origins, look at what 
these myths are doing to us, maybe we 
can then see our way clear to develop- 
ing a healthy sexuality. 

Heterosexual Black women have 
been affected by many kinds of atti- 
tudes about their performance. When 
I was younger (and I understand from 
friends that this still goes on), Black 
women valued big breasts and large 
behinds. The feeling was that the man 
wanted some meat on his bone. Many 
also bragged about being able to ac- 
commodate a large penis. Black men 
valued these aspects of their women 
and the women therefore valued them 
if they wanted to have and keep their 
Black men. I have heard many Black 
male performers tell jokes or sing songs 
about the physical aspects of women 
that they like. Wildman Steve jokes 
about loving large Black women and 
musical groups sing about Bertha Butt 
and the Butt Sisters. That is not to say 
that all of these praises are negative. 
Large behinds are an African value. 
As a matter of fact, Europeans must 
have also valued African women's pos- 
teriors because they designed bustles as 
posterior extenders for European 
women. 



When I hear tales from men and 
women about what went down in bed 
it does not sound like love, it sounds 
more like hostility. When I hear, "I 
fucked her so hard she could barely 
walk the next day," or "I laid it on him 
so bad that I know he'll come back 
home to me now," it seems to me that 
a war is being waged in the bedroom. 
Sex is used as a tool, a weapon to strike 
back for all the day's frustrations. In 
addition, when the Black male and 
Black female go to bed, they are not 
alone. They take along with them all 
of the super-duper stereotypes of what 
it is supposed to be like with them. 

Black homosexual and lesbian 
relationships not only take on some of 
the Black sexual myths, they take on 
the heterosexual ones also. For the 
most part, there were no visible posi- 
tive role models for homophile unions. 
They existed and still exist mostly 
within a heterosexual context. That 
means that one partner is masculine/ 
butch and the other is feminine/ 
femme; one is dominant and the other 
passive. Lesbians fell into the same 
kinds of traps because, as women tried 
to escape being oppressed by men, 
some turned into the oppressor toward 
other women. They were told if you 
are a lesbian, you must be butch and 
tough like a man. Old psychological 
and medical journals even talk about 
masculinized women. 

I've heard people say: "Lesbians 
are a serious threat to nationalistic 
Blacks because as women, they are the 
mothers of our future forces. If women 
start turning to each other, where will 
the babies come from? Lesbians must 



63 



stop being selfish and looking out for 
their pleasure when the birth of a new 
nation is at stake." The solution to the 
lesbian's problem is "a good fuck." All 
she needs supposedly is the right man 
with the right medicine to straighten 
her out. 

Black people have certainly inter- 
nalized a lot of white stereotypes about 
our sexuality, as well as created and 
perpetuated our own. Let's look at 
some of the origins of these stereo- 
types. If we examine the breeding 
farms in Amerika during the enslave- 
ment of Black people, we can find 
documentation that bears out some 
stereotypes' origins. Semi-nude and 
sometimes fully nude slaves were 
bought and sold on the auction block. 
This was done so that the prospective 
buyer could see what kind of merchan- 
dise he was getting. A slave with a 
large penis and testes was thought of as 
a good breeder. Large-boned women 
slaves with large breasts were also con- 
sidered good breeders. These slaves 
were forced to perform sexually in 
front of masters and overseers. This 
act was sometimes viewed as sexually 
arousing so that after the performance 
with the slave male, the Black woman 
was often repeatedly sexually abused 
by the master and the overseer. This 
sexual abuse by whites has resulted in 
our many shades of Blackness — from 
very dark to light-bright-and-damn- 
near-white. 

Personal accounts from masters' 
and overseers' notes and diaries, as 
well as oral histories of ex-slaves, reveal 
how Blacks were considered to be 
sexual beings. From these experiences 
you get the big and hard penis stories. 
These experiences also talk about the 
readiness and animalistic nature of the 
Black woman. Slaves were not con- 
sidered as people but as chattel. There- 
fore they were not supposed to have 
rights, feelings, or thoughts about how 
they were being treated. So if a white 
man wanted sex with a slave, he just 
took it. She was supposed to be "ready" 
at all times. This "taking" from a 
Black woman existed long after slavery 
and continues even today. That is why 
the belief historically from whites is 
that Black women can't be raped. How 
can it be considered rape or sexual 
abuse when it is so natural to just 
"take" it from her as a tradition? This 
bears out in our modern culture espe- 
cially when we know that this happens 
to incarcerated women. Joan Little is a 
case in point. 

From the breeding farm experi- 

64 



ence, I can see the growth of many of 
the stereotypes about the Black man's 
penis size, his use of it, the Black wom- 
an's promiscuity, her ability to ac- 
commodate a great deal of sex, her ani- 
malistic behavior, her bearing a lot of 
children out of wedlock, and so on. 
Old myths have a tendency to endure. 

Our puritan era in Amerika left 
legacies about women that have been 
well preserved. The pure white woman 
was not supposed to have sex to enjoy 
it, but was expected to just lie there 
and pray for it all to be over soon. So, 
for wild sex and pleasure, the white 
male either went to a house of ill- 
repute (which costs money) or, better 
still, to the slave quarters. There he 
could choose from among many young 
slaves with whom to engage in fun sex. 

If we go even further back to a time 
in Africa before we were captured, it is 
possible to speculate about the origins 
of a few other stereotypes. For the most 
part, the continent of Africa is hot, 
especially on the West Coast. When 
whites landed there, they observed 
Africans going about their everyday 
activities with a minimal amount of 
cloth covering their bodies. Europeans 
were fully dressed in shoes, socks, 
pants, shirts, and sometimes even 
jackets. Since Europeans were used to 
so much clothing, looking at Africans 
made them think of them as sexually 
loose. After all, women were bare- 
breasted and children ran around 
nude. Nudity and promiscuity were 
equated. Also, as recently stated in 
Essence, Africans handled the know- 
ledge of sexuality with their children 
and villagers in a non-restrictive man- 
ner: 

Nowhere is traditional Africa's casual- 
ness toward sex more manifest than in 
its attitudes toward nudity. Africans 
prefer not to be encum.bered by cloth- 
ing beyond that which is necessary in 
a hot humid climate. Both boys and 
girls walk about naked and become 
familiar with genitals as they work, sit, 
bathe or relieve themselves) 

From our African culture I can see 
other stereotypes that emerged, such 
as that about Black sexual prowess and 
the many forms that this takes. When 
whites went to Africa, they did not 
understand our language, culture, 
rituals, or sexual behavior. So they 
generalized about African sexual be- 
havior based on the tribal nations that 
they were observing. Thus, we have 
stereotyped information that is dis- 
torted and invented by racist and sexist 
minds that thought of Africans as 



property. Whites invented myths to 
justify slavery and abusive sexual ex- 
ploitation. 

Black female and male relation- 
ships have been strained for hundreds 
of years due to external racist manipu- 
lation and inside destruction. We do a 
lot of negative things to one another 
that are destroying our otherwise posi- 
tive aspects of sexuality. Black males 
and females have to stop playing the 
game of "who's the most oppressed" or 
"who's oppressing whom." Black wom- 
en sometimes claim that the brothers 
are not sensitive, too rough, just in the 
relationship for the sex, playing around 
with other women too much, etc. 
Black men sometimes claim that the 
Black woman expects too much, is not 
"soft and lady-like," only thinks about 
money, etc. According to the realities 
of their lives, they're both probably 
right. My concern is to help iron out 
these conflicts. In order to do that we 
need to look at the totality of our 
sexuality — Africa, slavery, poverty, 
urbanization, stereotypes, attitudes, 
behavior, everything. 

One of the dangers that hangs over 
our heads is our inability to honestly 
discuss these matters with one another. 
Our negative images come from a 
place where we learned to take, fight, 
and show little emotion. As Yvonne 
Flowers says, "One of our legacies from 
slavery is beatings and physical abuse. 
We were whipped to make us work and 
to break our spirit. We are still haunt- 
ed by our master's lashings in the form 
of battered persons — our children, 
women, and spouses. Let us take that 
out of the closet." 2 

Black mothers did not school Black 
women as to what to look out for with 
men. How could they if they in some 
ways did not know how to explain it? 
So it was left unsaid. Our learning was 
through experience and mistakes. The 
only times I got some information 
about men from my elders was when 
they were talking in the kitchen and I 
was not supposed to listen. I'd hear 
things like "men aren't shit," "those 
men lie so, even when you catch 
them," "a woman can't live with them 
and she can't live without them," "it's 
better to have a no good man than no 
man at all," and so on. I know that 
men heard tales to equal these with 
reference to women. If a Black woman 
followed the ethics of the puritan 
teachings, she would be as repressed 
sexually as the white women who suf- 
fered it. If she accepts the racist/sexist 
stereotypes about what she is supposed 



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to do and supposed to be, such as that 
f the hot mama, animalistic woman, 
she still loses out. 

Consequently, internalizing these 
stereotypes causes us to act out of all 
kinds of bags. The women and men 
who fit into these stereotypes, operate 
from them, and are comfortable about 
them have little problem until they 
become too oppressive. By too oppres- 
sive I mean that one sex or the other, 
or both, get to the point where their 
functioning is impaired by all of the 
negative factors involved in making a 
relationship a disaster. However, the 
women or men who have images of 
these stereotypes hanging over them, 
and who either do not fit well into 
them or chose not to fit into them, do 
suffer greatly. When a young girl holds 
on to her virginity out of whatever 
choice, or does something other than 
heterosexual genital intercourse, does 
not respond like a wild, hot mama, or 
cannot accommodate a big dick, she 
is marked as a tease, castrating bitch, 
etc. There is obviously something 
wrong with her. When Black lesbians 
establish long-term relationships with 
one another with or without children, 
they are constantly struggling against 
oppressive stereotypes. 

When Black women started talking 
to one another in small groups, we 
found out a whole lot of shit. The first 
sigh of relief came when we realized 
that the problems we faced in our 
sexual lives were not restricted to just 
us. Black men need to do this with 
each other. 

We need to identify which prob- 
lems come from "them" and which 
problems come from us. Obviously this 
is not an easy task. Black people, and 
Black women in particular, never had 
an opportunity to define ourselves 
because we've been so busy fighting so 
many racist myths. Our sexuality has 
been defined by non-Blacks, most of 
whom operated from an anthropo- 
logical and sociological framework 
which saw Blacks as a problem to be 
studied, not as a valid alternative cul- 
ture. We have long ago seen this as our 
: work to do and are now in a position to 
do something about it. 

As a possible first step I see us 
waging an individual struggle. We 
have to examine ourselves closely. The 
Witts-Vitale test that I have created 
and used in my work is designed to 
\ show us how we relate to the same sex, 
'i: and other sex, and to images about us. 
One of the activities in this test is to 
make lists answering questions such as 



"How do men see me as a sexual 
being?" "How do women see me as a 
sexual being?" and so on, until we get 
a profile of the individual. Once the 
profile is made up, we talk about the 
items. This exercise can be done with 
one individual or in a small group 
setting. After we understand more 
about what we like, want, and need, 
we can begin to try to understand the 
uniqueness of our significant other. 

I see healthy Black sexuality as 
resisting the racist ideology of the op- 
pressor that has restricted and dis- 
torted our sexual expression. It also 
means dealing with sexism in the Black 
community and Black men, raising the 
consciousness about how they sexually 
oppress Black women. Resistance 
means having loving, caring sexuality 
where the woman is an active partici- 
pant and the man is a tender and 
understanding lover. Resistance also 
means that we must create new ways of 



relating to one another that are not 
oppressive but respecting of each 
other's wants, needs, and wishes. We 
must open up the channels of com- 
munication. There is a hell-of-a-lot of 
work to be done in understanding and 
researching the various aspects of Black 
sexuality. Some of this work may be 
painful, but out of this pain will come 
a necessary growth. 



I thank my sisters Yvonne, Lorraine, and Hattie 
for helping us resist the oppression by sharing 
their insights with me on Black sexuality. I'd also 
like to thank Salsa Soul Sisters. 

1. T. Obinkaram Echewa, "African Sexual Atti- 
tudes," Essence (March 1981), pp. 55-56. 

2. Yvonne Flowers, "Homophobia — and the 
Fear of Homosexuals in the Black Community," 
presented at Annual Spring Conference, New 
York Association of Black Psychologists (1978). 



Sylvia Witts Vitale is a sex therapist and educa- 
tor, graduate of New York University, and a lec- 
turer at various CUNY colleges. 






" "... '■*&&,. 







WMB 














65 



In our culture, sexuality is part of 
an unfinished dialectic which causes 
personal pain and social conflict, and 
keeps erotic pleasure within predict- 
able bounds. At once completely per- 
sonal and completely political, sexu- 
ality is a frontier whose exploration 
will lead to resolutions of contradic- 
tions in feminist and leftist theory and 
practice. For even as it entails issues of 
the psyche and individual autonomy, 
it also involves matters of collectivity 
and revolution, and so joins conscious- 
ness and public life. It makes us exa- 
mine and want to change domestic 
arrangements, structures of social 
reproduction, intimacy. This alter- 
nately exciting and troubling prospect 
means altering the ground on which 
we stand, the ground which has sup- 
ported us during all other struggles. 

It is alleged that Picasso, when 
asked to name the greatest living 
painter, replied, "On what day?" 
Sexual experience and form are as 
contingent. Sexual feeling, ideation, 
and behavior are multidimensional. 
They vary from person to person, cul- 



ture to culture, era to era. And every 
orgasm is different. 

Yet sexuality, like painting and 
politics, perdures in time and space. 
We need to take account of both its 
continuity and its variety, of the ten- 
sion between what it seems to be and 
what it might become. Sexuality ap- 
pears to us Westerners to be made of a 
confusing tangle of culture, psyche, 
and nature. It becomes as much sym- 
bol as anything else. It stands for joy 
and conflict, social connection and 
individual self-realization, public life 
and private experience, freedom and 
imprisonment, security and risk, our 
limits and our potential. This complex 
variety mirrors that of our intrapsychic 
and social lives. 

Sexuality, in other words, is vari- 
ous. We Westerners know this, yet, to 
our paralyzing confusion, we fear to 
follow out its implications. I will not 
examine here this variousness in bio- 
logy—in humans and nonhuman 
nature 1 — but will go straight to the 
heart of the matter. Recent work indi- 
cating a great deal of cross-cultural 
sexual variation suggests that our 




Diane Sipprelle. SSSexuality. 

Diane Sipprelle, an artist, graphic artist, and printer, lives in NYC. 

66 



sexual self-knowledge is created not so 
much by nature as by culture. Com- 
ing, humanly, from inside a culture 
we can view and experience sexuality 
only to the limits of the cultural spec- 
tacles we wear; at their edges, our 
vision blurs. We need to refine our 
outlook so as to see what else may exist. 
For our culture creates a double-bind 
— on the one hand encouraging us to 
explore and embrace our uncharted 
sexual totality, on the other treating 
that unknown territory as if it were al- 
ready mapped and found dangerously 
unfit for human habitation, so that 
our curiosity comes to seem at best 
foolish and at worst immoral. 

Western research itself, for exam- 
ple, sees sexuality as a technicolor spec- 
trum of biology, experience, psychol- 
ogy, behavior, society, ideation. The 
spectrum starts with the more social, 
shades imperceptibly into the psycho- 
logical, and lastly becomes biological: 
gender role, sexual activity, sensuality, 
sexual orientation, choice of partner, 
sexual ideology, fantasy, pleasure, 
desire, gender identity, reproduction. 
In individuals, according to sexologists 
John Money and Anke Ehrhardt, there 
are at least 12 important and distinct 
dimensions to sexuality: chromosomes; 
fetal gonads; fetal hormones; genital 
dimorphism; neurological dimor- 
phism; observed behavior; body 
image; juvenile and adult gender iden- 
tity; and pubertal hormones, erotics, 
and morphology. 2 The individual 
variability in genitals, secondary sex 
characteristics, and gender psychology 
reported by social psychologists Su- 
zanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna 
suggests that adult gender variation is 
"polymorphic" rather than "dimor- 
phic"; that is, there are perhaps many 
genders rather than only two. 3 And 
gender variation, or its lack, is cul- 
turally shaped; as anthropologist 
Gayle Rubin conceptualizes it, sexu- 
ality is most inclusively structured by a 
sex/gender system. 4 

The preceding enumeration says, 

© 1981 Muriel Dimen 



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in a sense, what sexuality is for us. We 
create such lists in order to compre- 
hend the things that, according to our 
culture, constitute sexuality. But this 
analytic dissection also tends to pre- 
clude what might be; we do not see 
what it does not encompass. Most im- 
portant, its representation of aspects of 
sexuality as if they were disconnected 
segments tends, despite our best and 
most radical efforts, to reify the parts 
of a potentially whole phenomenon. In 
real life, sexuality tends to involve all 
of these parts all of the time; indeed, it 
is this capacity to integrate so much of 
life that creates the pleasurable dif- 
fuseness of sexual activity. We need to 
put these parts together again in order 
to understand sexuality in its proper 
location in society and personal experi- 
ence, and so perhaps make real its 
emergently integral relation to both. 

Still, this dissection accurately re- 
flects the internally divided, con- 
strained, and, so, narrowed sexual 
whole which our Western culture cre- 
ates. On the one hand, our ideology 
has historically alienated sexual acti- 
vity from us, saying it is to be not for 
itself but for the production of some- 
thing: sex is for making babies. The 
organization of sexuality then puts 
control of reproduction in the hands of 
the state; the state, through laws on 
abortion and sterilization, controls the 
public results of sexuality. On the 
other hand, our recent ideology has 
reified nonreproductive sexual activity 
by making sexual experience seem to 
produce the ultimate in ecstasy and 
pleasure. But the social organization 
of sexuality makes this impossible by 
couching the symbols of pleasure in 



male terms, putting the control of 
sexual behavior in male hands, and so 
limiting the realization of authentic 
female desire. 

Not all cultures are like ours, 
which allows grand hopes for sexuality 
while creating straitened forms for it. 
Even if most cultures emphasize and 
reward approximations to an ideal of 
two distinct genders, some permit 
greater variation. In the Navajo three- 
gender system, for example, genitally 
normal females and males make up 
two genders. Genital hermaphrodites, 
called "real nadle," and genitally nor- 
mal individuals who chose to "pretend 
they are nadle" constitute a third gen- 
der. Real nadle never marry; other 
nadle may select either a male or fe- 
male spouse, may perform all tasks 
except hunting and waging war, and 
are in some respects treated as women 
(whose legal status is higher than 
men's). 5 In other two-gender systems, 
as among the Tuken of Kenya, sexual 
activity is matter-of-factly integrated 
into daily life. There, both genders 
may freely discuss heterosexual erotic 
desire and experience in each other's 
presence as long as there are no per- 
sons present who are inappropriate as 
bedmates on the grounds of kinship, 
political alliance, or age-set member- 
ship. 6 In Europe, courtship and mar- 
riage customs vary according to class. 7 
Others, like the contemporary com- 
munist Chinese, may narrow sexuality 
even more by ideological denials and 



intrapsychic repression of the urgency 
and importance of sexual desire. 

In late capitalist patriarchy, the 
dearly espoused cultural ideas of male/ 
female differences gloss over observed 
individual variability. This slippage 
creates psychic stress, generates social 
frenzy about the expression or non- 
expression of sexuality, and encourages 
us to produce reasonable facsimiles of 
the ideals. Our ideology and practice 
of sex roles construct, out of what are 
only tendencies toward genital dimor- 
phism, two mutually exclusive cate- 
gories, that is, genders. 8 The dress and 
behavior codes of our culture try to 
hide the full range of diversity in order 
to create an appearance of dimor- 
phism. Think of what some of us 
(women perhaps more than men) put 
on, such as makeup and skirts, padded 
shoulders and wigs; and take off, such 
as body hair and frowns, or long fin- 
gernails and tender expressions, in 
order to reduce our personal diver- 
gences from the dimorphic ideal of two 
distinct genders. But the coverage is 
incomplete and we must piece together 
the gender people want to be taken 
for. As Esther Newton notes, in order 
to look like women, male transvestites 
don the same attire and makeup that 
females do in order to match the cul- 
ture's image for them. 9 

Industries make millions from 
these efforts to approximate the cul- 
ture's fantastic images of sexual per- 
fection. And adolescents go nearly 




Lyn Hughes. Odalisque. Lyn Hughes is a visual anthropologist living in NYC. 



67 




Photo by Carol Harmel. Carol Harmel is a pho 

crazy over them, for the acquisition of 
gender forms is a major part of the 
process by which infants grow to adult- 
hood. Maturation is culturally in- 
formed, entailing in all cultures sexual 
variation in the form of metamor- 
phoses in gender identity, gender 
roles, and erotic experience. 

For example, in our culture, our 
erotic desires shift from our infantile 
diffuse or "polymorphous" sensuality 
— babies love to suck their toes and 
smear their feces on themselves — all 
throughout our juvenile, adolsecent, 
and adult years. And we change as 
adults — the lover or sexual experience 
we chose 10 years ago may not be the 
one we want 10 years from now. In our 
culture, too, the sexual sequence 
changes generationally: in one genera- 
tion, adolescents necked and adults 
slept together; in the next, juveniles 
make out, adolescents make it, and 
adults swing. Psychological, social, 
and structural changes proceed un- 
evenly, often out of step. And all this 
takes place both consciously and out of 
our awareness. 

Yet our culture insists that adult- 
hood entail a transformation in the 
direction of increasingly limited ex- 
perience. 10 In other words, what has 
been called "repression" is shaped by 
and the servant of social forms of 
domination, such as rigid social roles; 
sexual orientations; alienated labor; 
and class, race, gender, and other 
hierarchies. Although every culture 
may need to differentiate between 
child and adult, human culture need 
not cut experience short as ours does. 

68 



tographer and founding member of Artemisia. 

A narrowed sexuality is required only 
where a cultural gulf is actually cre- 
ated between child and adult. An 
oceanic sexuality narrows into sexual 
straits only under those social condi- 
tions where maturation means we must 
forget about play in order to embrace 
work, only where work and play split 
time, space, and meaning between 
them, as in entrepreneurial, corporate, 
monopoly, and state capitalism. 

In our culture, the metamorphosis 
by which children become sexual 
adults begins in and is organized most 
immediately by familial and domestic 
institutions where social/sexual ta- 
boos, the sex/gender system, and the 
structure of society meet. Less sense- 
perceptible but equally influential, the 
political and economic institutions 
which contextualize domestic ones — 
the schools, church, media, work- 
place, state — exact grudging, tortured 
compliance with the artificial divides 
between work and play, child and 
adult, male and female. The person, 
trying to stay on the proper side of the 
divides, becomes divided inside. And 
in the gaps, sexuality — fragmented, 
exciting, troubling, haunting — gets 
lost and so seeks a home everywhere. 

Sexuality narrows in small, gradu- 
ated steps. The incest taboo drives 
home sexual repression and sends the 
child out of the home into society. The 
socially constructed sex/gender sys- 
tem, which participates in organizing 
the work of social reproduction and 
material production, as well as the 
development of personal identity, so 
routinizes private life as to exclude the 



childlike spirit of play in which sexu- 
ality thrives. The gender hierarchy 
and the gendered division of labor be- 
tween domestic and political spheres 
thereby remove sexuality from the 
privacy of personal control and place it 
in the public domain. 

Sexuality then runs to the frontiers 
of individual fantasy, the public 
media, and leisure-time playlands 
There it is captured, commoditized 
and tamed by exchange-value which 
markets it as a new product in its line 
of endless choice and possibility, ap- 
pealing to our desires for our dormant 
polymorphous sensuality. Packaged 
masculinist pornography leashes the 
wild, boundary-breaking violence of 
sex to routinized, boundary-preserving 
images of violation. Romantic novels, 
mass-produced for women stuck in 
private isolation, housebreak sexuality 
through rose-colored visions of psy- 
chically violent love in exotic places. 
Est and other adjustive therapies sani- 
tize sexuality by rationalizing desire. 
The media train sexuality by holding 
out (on) that great big orgasm in the 
sky that each of us could have if only 
we bought the right vibrator or found 
the right (wo)man. 

The origins of domination are dia- 
lectical. The individualized economic 
order and the hierarchies of power use 
sexuality as a means for politico- 
economic inequality and domination 
by identifying us in a one-dimensional 
sexual way. This partitioning of our 
selves, which are always striving for 
wholeness, allows the realization in our 
persons of the reification embedded in 
society's power hierarchies, and so re- 
creates domination within us. 

The workplace constructs sexuality 
differently for males and females, gays 
and straights. Women can lose their 
jobs by either complaining about or 
complying with sexual harassment, 
while for men the wielding of sexual 
power may be, if not merely unwise, 
part of the wielding of economic pow- 
er. Discrimination by gender, such as 
unequal pay for equal work, reempha- 
sizes the gender hierarchy implicit in 
female -assigned child-rearing, and 
creates a new hierarchy on the job. 
Compulsory heterosexuality adds a 
third cross-cutting hierarchy by pun- 
ishing homosexual preferences with 
loss of or exclusion from jobs. People 
begin to experience not only their 
sexuality, but their selves, as stunted 
and stunting. 

The state's compression of sexual 
activity, and so its diminishing of our 



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selves, is even more fine-tuned. Homo- 
phobic laws section the public expres- 
sion of our desire, distorting our pri- 
vate experience, our knowledge of self 
and other, and so our intimacies. Laws 
that restrict access to contraception 
and abortions, and open the way to 
sterilization for Third World and 
working-class women, bear down on 
the results of heterosexual intercourse. 
Coupled with the corporate refusal to 
develop safe, aesthetic contraception 
for both genders, this state of affairs 
saddles females with reproductive 
issues which influence their sexual 
facts and fantasies in ways males can- 
not share. Similarly, it presents gay 
people with social and psychological 
problems which straight people can 
barely imagine. Across these barriers, 
people gaze at one another with mis- 
trust and longing, their desire thwarted 
by envy, their rage and fear bottled up 
by need. 

Our cramped, reified selves be- 
come useful to the compartmentalized, 
hierarchized social structure — to work- 
place, state, media, and sex/gender 
system. The economic system is tied to 
corporate profits, not social desires. It 
needs people of all classes who need 
not only material means of survival — a 
paycheck for alienated labor — but also 
psychic /ideological ones — authoritari- 
an sets of rules to define their activities 
and identities. The state too attempts 
to ensure our dependency by reducing 
us to flies stuck on bureaucratic red 
tape. State and economy are very well 
served by patriarchy, which enables 
them to speak of corporations and na- 
tions as (male-dominated) "families," 
and to inscribe us in their records as, 




SO Wily wcai ax|uaic iuuu. 




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among other things, female or male, 
head of household or not, single, mar- 
ried, or divorced. 

Patriarchal ideology and authori- 
tarian practices can thereby tie us, too, 
to profits, even as we seem to be work- 
ing in our own interests. Defined by 
sexual parts of our selves, we become 
less than our selves, and our potential 
for autonomous daily redefinition of 
existence comes to seem, or to be, di- 
minished. The workplace itself, which 
circumscribes our activities and deci- 
sions for 10 hours a day, 52 weeks a 
year, and 70 years of a lifetime, pre- 
fabricates choices and performs func- 
tions for us which become increasingly 
difficult for us to do alone as we be- 
come more stunted by social/sexual 
domination. 

The media also thrive on people 
whose ability to experience themselves 
as powerful and to act powerfully has 
been diminished by sexual reification. 
The media thicken the mystification 
and intensify the rigidity with which 
we are categorized, thereby setting us 
up for manipulation by advertising 
and political propaganda. The media 
concretize the thin abstractions of our 
sexual selves by uncritically replicating 
the familiar cultural ideals and images 
of nature which construct masculinity 
and femininity. This replication se- 
duces us into accepting our sexual 
straits by reaffirming the part-identity 
which our culture has given each of us 
and which each of us has come to 
value, willingly or not. 

Our sex/gender system, by dis- 
tinguishing rigidly between two gen- 
ders, makes each gender live out only 
some of human possibility and so re- 




12 



quires each to need one of the other 
gender to make a (presumably) whole 
person." Capitalist patriarchy or- 
ganizes production and reproduction 
by splitting them and so constructing 
part-people. It makes the work of the 
domestic domain the work of women, 
even if it also demands that women 
join men at the workplace. By relegat- 
ing the work of social reproduction to 
a supposedly "private" sphere, capi- 
talist patriarchy treats it as a leftover. 
In other words, it demeans the rearing 
of the next generation, assigns this de- 
meaning work materially and/or sym- 
bolically to females, roots female self- 
esteem in it, excludes males from it, 
burdens lone women in isolated nu- 
clear families with it, denigrates alter- 
natives to the nuclear family (such as 
extended families or creative day-care 
centers), and trivializes it by cate- 
gorizing it with other apparent irrele- 
vancies like play and domesticity. 

By making part-people of females 
and males, the dualistic gender system 
makes us fear and loathe both our 
selves and others. We come therefore 
to fear as alien and unsettling a sexu- 
ality which might put us in true touch 
with all parts of our selves and with 
others . And so we keep sexuality — with 
its impulse toward integration — a 
stranger by rushing gratefully into 
gender's containing walls. Outside 
these walls, uncontained by the domes- 
tic origins of intimacy and banned by 
the public places of work and power, 
sexuality becomes alienated from the 
body/psyche in which it arose. Its 
frightening strangeness, a result of the 
sexual narrowing of our maturation, 
infuses sexual orientation, gender 




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agreatbathoiL 




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69 



identity, gender role, and sexual ideol- 
ogy. In other words, the learning of 
sexual repression is also the learning of 
one's place in gender stratification, as 
well as the learning of the reification of 
self, other, and passion. 

The gulfs between male and fe- 
male, child and adult, work and play, 
self and other, domesticate "passion" 
by calling it love, harnessing love to 
monogamous heterosexual marriage, 
and embedding marriage in the nu- 
clear family. The family's rules and 
expectations channel sexuality into 
ceremony and routinize passion by 
eliminating our power to embrace or 
resist it. They advertise the socially 
structured need of adult males and fe- 
males for each other as biologically 
(because reproductively) based, there- 
fore seemingly eternal and unques- 
tionable. The family's ideology ham- 
mers ever deeper the partialness of our 
experience, sending even more subli- 
minal messages. Not only must one 
find one's completion in an other of 
the opposite gender; but one's comple- 
tion lies ultimately in, and never be- 
yond, the nuclear family. And the 
monogamous heterosexual nuclear 
family conceals its own incompletion. 
For it is only one variety of domestic 
life. Other varieties include same-sex 
couples, single-person units, friends 
living together, communes, extended 
families, communitarian institutions, 
prisons, schools, hospitals, and the ser- 
vant-filled domiciles of the rich. And 
families and domestic units are only 
parts of more inclusive and varied 
structures, those of the public sphere 
— economy; politics, ethnic, sexual, 
and racial communities; the ecosystem 
itself. 

Part of the process of resisting this 
narrowed and fragmenting sexuality is 
creating new public structures. Here 
women have created a feminist com- 
munity which has attempted to recap- 
ture sexuality, to "liberate" it from 
political and economic and ideological 
exploitation, and so to return it to our 
personal control by redefining, recon- 
structing, and setting it free again. To 
do this, we have had to find out what 
we want, and this has forced us to look 
at what we actually do. What we have 
found is great variety and uncertainty. 

We must not let this uncertainty 
and diversity frighten us into partici- 
pating in the very processes that limit 
our powers and nullify our resistance. 
Often our anger at male dominance 
gets short-circuited into an anti-sexu- 

70 



ality, a tendency which is another form 
of sexual constriction and social domi- 
nation. It is incumbent on us, rather, 
to create a vision of an authentic fe- 
male/feminine sexuality, of what we 
want. But this will require us to re- 
think and reexperiment in ways that 
may seem forbidden and heretical. 

For example, do we want promis- 
cuity? Perhaps more than anything 
else, promiscuity symbolizes sexual 
variety to us in our time and culture. 
Most cultures, most of the time, have 
offered men a greater mobility and 
familiarity with, and so rights to, the 
public domain, including, if it exists in 
the culture, sexual promiscuity. Our 
sex/gender system has not permitted 
women to be promiscuous in the way 
that men are. And most cultures, most 
of the time, have given to women pri- 
vate intimacy with the self and near 
others, a more intricate and varied 
psychological experience — emotional 
promiscuity, if you will. 12 And our 
culture has not allowed men to be 
emotionally promiscuous. 

We know that female sexual turf 
and male emotional range need expan- 
sion. But can women in our time and 
culture be promiscuous in the way that 
men are? Can women, without becom- 
ing de-gendered, want the balance- 
shifting access to varied, spontaneous, 
passionate, even recreational sexual 
activity? Can men become emotionally 
complex? Can they turn in and find in 
themselves that intimacy with self and 
other which is now locked into femi- 
ninity? Do we want them to? Do we 
care if they can? Are female and male 
shifts mutually dependent, or is an as- 
sumption of mutual dependence part 
of an outmoded dualistic sex/gender 
system badly in need of an overhaul? 







jjB 

ill 




FranWinant. The Kiss (1979). Acrylic & oil. 56" 
x 46" Fran Winant is a poet and painter. 



We do not yet know what we need 
and want and are able to do. Togeth - 
and separately, we must begin to \ m 
gine our own sexual Utopias. We mir 
expect to have to consider unexpected 
variation. Our journey cannot stop 
with the exchange of parts between 
women and men, gays and straights 
for there is more to sexuality than two 
genders or two kinds of affectional 
preference, just as there is more to 
psychic and social wholeness than what 
is found in adults, in the nuclear fami- 
ly, in our own or any culture. Hetero- 
sexuals and homosexuals, child and 
adult, simple societies and complex 
ones, divide up experience and form 
among them, as does membership in 
families and collectivities. And in the 
divisions perhaps something is lost. We 
know there is more than we know, and 
we must set out to create what we lack. 
The end of the journey will therefore 
be but a beginning, a variable con- 
struction of sex and gender, offering 
metamorphosis, choice, uncertainty. 

Many have helped me to develop this paper. I 
particularly want to thank Carol Ascher, Beth 
Jaker, Rayna Rapp, Arnold Sachar, and Paula 
Webster. 

1. A fuller version of this paper takes into ac- 
count the biology, ecology, and psychology of 
sexuality. See "Toward the Reconstruction of 
Sexuality," Social Text (forthcoming). 

2. John Money and Anke A. Ehrhardt, Man and 
Woman, Boy and Girl (Baltimore: Johns Hop- 
kins University Press, 1972). 

3. Suzanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna, Gen- 
der (New York: Wiley, 1978). 

4. Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women," 
Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna 
R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 
1975), pp. 157-211. 

5. Lila Leibowitz, Females, Males, Families 
(North Scituate: Duxbury Press, 1978), p. 67. 

6. Bonnie Kettel, personal communication. See 
also Bonnie and David Kettel, "The Tuken of 
Western Kenya Highlands," Cultural Source 
Materials for Population Planning in Eastern 
Africa, ed. Angela Malnos (Nairobi: East Afri- 
can Publishing House, 1972), pp. 354-427. 

7. Ellen Ross and Rayna Rapp, "A Research 
Note from Social History and Anthropology," 
Comparative Studies in Society and History 
(forthcoming). 

8. Kessler and McKenna, Ch. 1. 

9. Esther Newton, Mother Camp (Englewood 
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971). 

10. Ernst Schachtel describes the process of 
"childhood amnesia" by which this happens in 
Metamorphosis (New York: Basic Books, 1959). 

1 1 . Jules Henry, Culture Against Man (New 
York: Basic Books, 1963). 

12. Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of 
Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of 
Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1978), p. 198. 

Muriel Dimen, Associate Professor of Anthro- 
pology at Lehman College (CUNY) and an ana- 
lytic candidate in the New York University pro- 
gram, wrote The Anthropological Imagination. 



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For many women of color, ques- 
tions of economic, political, social, 
and sexual development cannot be dis- 
cussed in isolation from one another. 
Because much of our historical experi- 
" ence has been characterized by imperi- 
alist domination, our attempts at self- 
realization are intrinsically connected 
to the broader struggle for autonomy, 
dignity, and recognition. Regaining 
'control over our own sexuality and 
; overcoming the sexual stigmas that 
surround us are prerequisites to defin- 
ing personal sexual expression. 

Racial, class, and national domin- 
ation has often been effected by sexual 
assaults on women. Indeed, Third 
World women's sexuality has often 
been the target of attacks aimed at as- 
serting overall authority and keeping 
the victim in a state of complete emo- 



tional and physical dependency. As 
Third World women, our sexuality has 
been subject to public scrutiny and 
judgment. We are viewed as either 
oversexed or asexual, immoral or puri- 
tanical. We are denied the right to 
sexual privacy as well as the freedom to 
make our own sexual choices. Either 
way, we must struggle to make our 
sexuality exclusively our own domain. 

"Only Virgins Need Apply" 

In February 1979, a 35-year-old 
Indian woman traveled from New 
Delhi to London with her fiance, an 
Indian businessman already settled in 
England. On arriving at London air- 
port, the woman was sent to the infir- 
mary by the immigration officer on 
duty. There she was ordered to undress 
and had to stand naked for half an 



Rekha Basu 

hour until the doctor arrived. The 
woman did not know what was hap- 
pening to her. During the wait, she 
asked for a robe to cover herself with; 
she also requested a woman doctor if 
she was going to be examined. Both 
requests were denied. A male doctor 
examined her internally and asked her 
if she had ever been pregnant. She was 
embarrassed and frightened, as she 
had never before had a gynecological 
examination. 

When it was over, she was informed 
that the test had been conducted to 
determine whether she was a virgin 
and thus verify that she was engaged to 
the man with whom she was traveling. 
Had the test indicated that she was not 
a virgin, it would have been assumed 
that she was not his fiancee, but al- 
ready married. In that case, she 




© 1981 Rekha Basu 



learned, she would have been deported 
back to India. 

The woman related her experience 
to a reporter from Britain's Manchester 
Guardian, which publicized the case. 
In both India and England, women's 
groups waged demonstrations and de- 
manded an investigation. Finally, the 
Indian government delivered an offi- 
cial protest to the British government. 
Apparently examinations of this 
nature had been routinely conducted 
for over a decade on Asian and other 
women of color entering Britain, de- 
spite the lack of any provision for them 
in the British Immigration Act. It 
seems that immigration officials had 
the license to do whatever they pleased 
in individual cases. "These tests are 
designed to help immigration officers 
determine whether claims of intended 
marriage to British residents are genu- 
ine," a British government spokesman 
reported. "An immigration officer may 
not be satisfied that a passenger is who 
he or she says they are, and may think 
they are seeking admission by decep- 
tion. In this case, the officer referred 
the passenger to the port medical ex- 
aminer to see if she was, in fact, a bona 
fide virgin or fiancee. After a cursory 
examination, the medical officer said 
these suspicions could be removed." 
Implicit in this reasoning that a wom- 
an who was not a virgin must already 
be married was a mandate that Indian 
women could not have sexual relations 
before marriage. 

Numerous cases involving sexual 
examinations of Asian women have 
been documented in Finding a Voice: 
Asian Women in Britain.^ One 16- 
year-old Pakistani girl was sent to Brit- 
ain for a marriage arranged by her 
parents and arrived in her wedding 
clothes. Two officers at the airport de- 
tained and examined her and then de- 
clared that she couldn't be 16 and was 
thus too young to marry. She was 
locked up in a detention center for 
several weeks before being sent back to 
Pakistan. In another case, an 18-year- 
old arrived with her husband in an 
advanced stage of pregnancy. She was 
sexually examined and then locked up 
at the airport detention center. As a 
result, she gave birth prematurely and 
the baby died. In other instances, par- 
ents have disowned their daughters be- 
cause of the disgrace when they are 
sent home for not being virgins. 

Sexual examinations have also been 
administered on young women who 
are not engaged or married, as well as 
on older women whose children have 
72 



settled in England. Young girls have 
been given VD tests and had their 
pubic hair shaved. Some have been 
told that they were too old to be de- 
pendent childen of their resident par- 
ents. A few older women have reported 
having their breasts examined, sup- 
posedly to determine their ages. Such 
tests have been conducted not only at 
the airport but also at the British Em- 
bassy in New Delhi on Indian women 
applying for visas to England. 

Embarrassment and fear of harass- 
ment have led most women to remain 
silent about their experiences. "I was 
most reluctant to have the examina- 
tion but I didn't know whether it was 
normal practice here," reported the 
woman whose case was finally brought 
to public attention. She had signed a 
consent form agreeing to "a gynecolog- 
ical examination which might be inter- 
nal if necessary" because she feared 
being sent back to India if she did not 
comply. 

Although these incidents were 
brought to public attention several 
years ago, they were given virtually no 
coverage in the American press. The 
Indian government's response was 
moderate and was made only after 
demonstrations and outbursts of griev- 
ances. National Indian women's or- 
ganizations, such as the All India 
Women's Conference and the National 
Federation of Indian Women, initially 
joined protests already under way, but 
were soon placated by invitations to 
tea at the British Embassy. 2 Even the 
organizations charged with safeguard- 
ing Indian interests in England were 
grossly negligent in responding to the 
episodes when they were reported. Im- 
migrant-welfare agencies in London 
had apparently been aware of such 
incidents since as far back as 1968. In 
that year alone, the Indian Workers 
Association recorded eight cases. The 
Joint Council for the Welfare of Im- 
migrants had issued a complaint to the 
British Home Secretary, who promised 
to take action to halt the examinations 
but later denied the charges altogether. 
These glib attitudes, along with the 
incidents themselves, point to the uni- 
versally low position of Asian and other 
Third World women, and the lack of 
privacy accorded to us in sexual mat- 
ters. Not only were the virginity and 
other tests part of a racist policy the 
British perpetrated solely against wom- 
en of color, but Indian government 
representatives failed to defend their 
citizens because the victims were wom- 
en, and thus the magnitude of the of- 



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Doranne Jacobson. Mannequin in Bridal Dress. 
From Asia(Nov./Dcc. 1980). 

fense was perceived as relatively minor. 
It is alone an outrage that women 
of color should be treated by different 
standards than white female immi- 
grants, that we should be accused of 
trying to enter a country by deception 
and then forced to undergo tests in- 
tended to prove our dishonesty. It is 
even more preposterous that the Brit- 
ish government should decide what is 
proper sexual behavior for us and shape 
its policies accordingly. It is tragic that 
Asian women have been forced to 
endure and internalize this humiliating 
treatment for years in silence. 

The Unstated Aims 

What was the real objective of this 
British practice? Was it, in fact, to de- 
tect illegitimate immigrants? Any way 
one looks at it, the racist and sexist im- 




plies 

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(Nov. /Dec. 1980). Doranne Jacobson is a re- 
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plications of this policy are astounding, 
first of all, it is impossible to deter- 
mine virginity through an internal ex- 
amination. More absurd, however, is 
the connection between these tests and 
the decision on immigration. Appar- 
ently a woman's past sexual life is to be 
the sole determinant of her right to 
immigrate. Here Asian women are ex- 
pected to conform to standards of 
morality that the British do not de- 
mand of their own female citizens or 
: vvhite immigrants. Not only have the 
British promoted such cultural stereo- 
types, but they now enforce them as 
requirements for entry. Moreover, 
there is no consideration that if a wom- 
an is denied entry, she will be subjected 
to public humiliation, sent home in 
disgrace, and will probably never be 
able to marry. 

One must also consider that these 
tests served several larger purposes. 
Through them, the British could subtly 
limit immigration, while maintaining 
their image as a liberal democracy with 
an open immigration policy. Ironi- 
cally, most Indians were originally en- 
couraged to come to England, as they 
provided a source of cheap labor dur- 
ing the economic boom of the 1950's 
and 60's. Yet this surplus labor force 
becomes unwanted during recessionary 
periods. By the mid-1960's, Indians 
represented a sizable presence in Eng- 
land and the British government be- 
gan to enact legislation to restrict their 
influx. Indian workers were given entry 
permits that tied them to specific jobs 
— usually the lowest paying, with the 
poorest working conditions. It became 
harder for the families of workers to 
immigrate with them. The various Im- 
migration Acts also accorded immi- 
gration officials with increased powers 
of deportation, to be used at their own 
discretion. 



The British government thus de- 
vised indirect ways of expelling Indians 
who were not altogether necessary to 
the economy. Women were the most 
vulnerable sector of the Indian popu- 
lation, and their sexuality was made a 
target of attack. Virginity tests were 
used not only to restrict immigration 
but to deliberately humiliate women. 
Indian women were particularly sus- 
ceptible to this because of repressive 
sexual attitudes within India, attitudes 
the British were not only well aware of 
but had themselves helped to perpetu- 
ate during the colonial period. 

The Scope of Sexual Colonization 

Such violation of the Indian wom- 
an's right to sexual privacy is repre- 
sentative of attitudes toward Third 
World women historically, throughout 
the world. Our sexuality has been 
assaulted and our sexual freedom 
lobbed. In Africa, during the slave 
trade, white settlers raped native wom- 
en and enacted on them the repressed 
sexual fantasies they would never have 
imposed on their wives; then they stig- 
matized these women for being im- 
moral. In the U.S., Afro-American, 
Hispanic, and Native American wom- 
en have been forcibly sterilized and 
used as guinea pigs for scientific ex- 
perimentation. In many parts of the 
U.S. a Hispanic woman cannot get an 
abortion unless she agrees to be steri- 
lized. Afro-Americans were the first in 
the U.S. to be given birth control pills, 
before they were mass-marketed, in an 
obvious attempt to curb the Black 
population. 

All these practices deny Third 
World women control over our bodies 
and sexual functions. Many of them 
are carried out by governments which 
champion women's rights and send 
representatives to United Nations con- 



ferences on International Women's 
Year. Sexual strategies have provided 
an easy vehicle for implementing cam- 
paigns of repression toward a subject 
population. Women are the easiest vic- 
tims of racial and class antagonisms, 
and thus in many of the assaults against 
poor and Third World peoples women 
have been the targets. 

In India, organized resistance to 
sexual assaults has begun to grow and 
active campaigns are taking place 
against rape, the forced dowry system 
and resulting dowry deaths, 3 and other 
crimes against women. Women are no 
longer looking to the government or 
the bureaucratic women's organiza- 
tions to espouse their interests, but are 
holding demonstrations, strikes, and 
boycotts to express their grievances 
and bring a halt to these practices. 
Women throughout the world must 
continue to play an active role to end 
such atrocities against us, and to crush 
the dehumanizing conceptions of 
women which are at their root. 

1. Amrit Wilson, Finding a Voice (London: 
Virago, 1978). 

2. Representatives of national women's organi- 
zations and female journalists paid a visit to the 
British Embassy in New Delhi, supposedly to 
conduct an investigation and convey a protest, 
but they ended up having tea and snacks and 
enjoying a social visit instead. 

3. The traditional dowry system, still very much 
in effect in India, requires that a bride's family 
give a large sum of money in cash and gifts to the 
bridegroom's family at the time of marriage. 
(The practice amounts to buying a husband 
from his family.) Recently, many cases of "dow- 
ry deaths" have been reported, whereby the 
family of the husband kills the bride for not pro- 
viding a large-enough dowry. The husbands are 
often accomplices in these murders. 

Rekha Basu, born in New Delhi and raised in 
New York, has taught political economy at the 
Goddard-Cambridge Graduate School for Social 
Change and studied video production at the In- 
stitute of New Cinema Artists. 

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73 




Reflections on Racism and Woman-identified Relationships of 



On campus recently I passed two 
young Black women walking together. 
Their interaction with each other car- 
ried an air of intimacy and familiarity. 
They interrupted their conversation 
long enough to exchange an acknowl- 
edging nod with me but quickly re- 
turned to their talk. I watched as one 
woman playfully pushed the other; 
they both laughed. As I walked on, I 
thought about our brief interaction. I 
began to question why I see so many 
more Euro- American women than 
Afro-American women whose lesbian- 
ism is visibly evident. Other questions 
began to flood my mind. Do lesbian 
relationships take a different form in 
the Black culture? What are the socio- 
political conditions that facilitate the 
"outness" of lesbians, and how do these 
differ for Black and white women? 
Why is it that the Black lesbian seems 
to be "invisible" in the United States? 
These questions began to form the 
basis for these notes on the impact of 
racism on the Afro- American lesbian. 
My basic premise is that the climate 
created by a Euro- American world 
philosophy of capitalism, racism, and 
patriarchy has kept the Afro- American 
lesbian invisible. It is this Euro-Ameri- 
can philosophy that has resulted in 
Afro-American lesbians being less visi- 
ble in comparison to Euro-American 
lesbians. The Afro-American lesbian's 
invisibility appears to be even more 
deliberate when one comes to know the 
herstory of woman-identified mar- 
riages by African women before Euro- 
American colonization. This invisibili- 
ty can be seen in the Afro-American 
lesbian's realistic fears and trepidations 
for her existence and safety if she open- 
ly acknowledges her lesbianism. This 
invisibility is manifested by the impact 
of the multiple oppressions of capital- 
ism, racism, and sexism which leave 
the Afro-American woman with the 
illusion that equality, power, and priv- 
ilege are possible if heterosexuality is 
chosen as a lifestyle. Moreover, this 
invisibility is perpetuated by the lack 

74 



of a significant body of literature re- 
flecting a Black feminist or Black 
lesbian-feminist ideology, as well as by 
the silencing of the herstory of woman- 
identified relationships in Africa. Such 
knowledge could guide the Afro- 
American lesbian in strengthening and 
building a visible and viable Black les- 
bian community. This visibility has the 
potential to facilitate an overall alli- 
ance in the Black community, possibly 
eradicating the feeling of alienation 
experienced by the Black lesbian. 

Increasing numbers of Afro-Amer- 
ican women are discovering a herstori- 
cal past of women-identified relation- 
ships among African women. Audre 
Lorde, for example, describes a tribe 
in West Africa, the Fon of Dahomey, 
in which 13 forms of marriage exist. 1 
One of these is called "giving the goat 
to the buck." It is a marriage in which 
a woman of independent means mar- 
ries another woman. They become co- 
wives. One of the co-wives may bear 
children by a male, but all children 
will be controlled by the co-wives and 
their heirs. While some of these mar- 
riages are entered into to allow women 
of means to continue to control their 
economic resources and jural author- 
ity, others are clearly lesbian mar- 
riages. 1 

Researchers, and often these are 
Euro-American women, have attempt- 
ed to deny lesbianism as a possible ex- 
planation for these marriages. 3 One 
such researcher negates the positive 
choice in these woman-to-woman mar- 
riages and describes them as occurring 
between "women who are unable to 
lead satisfying lives in man-woman 
marriage." 4 Yet this same researcher 
quotes an African woman, who let it 
be known to her friends that she was 
interested in marrying a "woman of 
good character and a hard worker." As 
the African woman put it: "A man 
who borrows money for beer from a 
woman is useless as a husband-father. 
I could not walk into such unhappiness 
with my eyes wide open. ". 5 This woman 



m. Mays 

already had two children, so clearly 
her decision to enter into a woman 
marriage was not based on her barren- 
ness. Nor was she a woman of means. 
(These are the "excuses" usually given 
by researchers for woman-to-woman 
marriages.) 

Woman-to-woman marriages are 
much more widespread than history 
wishes to acknowledge. This form of 
marriage is found in northern Nigeria 
among the Yoruba, Yagoba, Akoko, 
Nupe, and Gana-Gana communities. 
It has been reported in southern Ni- 
geria among the Iba and the Kalahari. 
Other tribes with woman-to-woman 
marriages include the Dinkas', the 
Barenda of the northern Transvaal, 
the Neurs, the Lovedu, and the Kamba 
in East Africa. I am sure the list will go 
on as we are able to uncover and write 
our own herstory. 

The point I wish to stress here is 
that lesbian bonding by African wom- 
en does herstorically exist. Lesbian re- 
lationships are recognized as legitimate 
social relationships in certain African 
societies. What kind of social structure 
and world view characterizes these 
particular African societies? My guess 
is that these societies are based on an 
African ideology that stresses inter- 
connectedness and flexibility in rela- 
tionships and roles. 6 

Such an orientation contrasts with 
the Euro-American framework in 
which the family has been defined as a 
closed nuclear unit and structured in a 
way that maintains patriarchy and 
capitalism. 7 In particular in the U.S., 
Black women have been used as the 
backbone for the building of economic 
growth. It is in the interests of Euro- 
Americans that Afro-American wom- 
en should not know of their lesbian 
heritage. Instead, the wish is that they 
remain controlled and defined within 
a capitalist-patriarchal social struc- 
ture. 

Afro-American women as a group 
must struggle to exist in a social system 
in which being Black and female is de- 

© 1981 Vickie M. Mays 



fine 

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fined as being powerless and inferior. 
As Barbara Smith so aptly points out, 
"Self-definition is a dangerous activity 
for any woman to engage in, especially 
a Black one." 8 There is an added dan- 
ger in self-definition for the Afro- 
American lesbian in terms of the threat 
she poses for heterosexual males and 
females, both Black and white, and for 
non-Third World lesbians. 

In the Black community lesbianism 
has traditionally been labeled as white, 
middle-class and bourgeois. It is viewed 
with distrust and contempt. Even to- 
day Black lesbians sometimes are de- 
risively referred to as "bulldaggers." 
Moreover, the Afro-American lesbian 
who acknowledges or evidences her les- 
bianism may meet with a fury of vio- 
lence from Black males. This abuse is 
qualitatively different from the abuse 
the Euro-American lesbian suffers at 
the hands of white or Black men. 9 As 
Marcia, a Black lesbian, describes it: 

Donna and I were walking down 3rd 
St. holding hands. We passed a bunch 
of guys as we were going on our way. 
They turned around and followed us 
for about 4 blocks. There were about 
5 guys. When they caught up to us, 
one of them grabbed Donna by the 
arm and asked her what did she want 
with me. He said she was too fine to be 
a stud and he had something that 
would make her feel good. He put her 
hand on his dick. I tried my best to 
kick his ass. . . . Between he and his 
brothers I received a broken jaw and 
two broken ribs. Donna was in the hos- 
pital for two weeks with a concussion. 10 

The reaction of Black males to 
Black women, especially those who are 
woman-identified, is based on the 
Black male's experience of racial op- 
pression, capitalism, and male privi- 
lege—all of which define the Black 
woman as a commodity. She is one of 
the few things the Black male can 
"own" and control. Toni Cade attrib- 
utes the antagonism between the Black 
male and the Black female to an ac- 
ceptance of Euro-American capitalist 
and misogynist definitions of manhood 
and womanhood. " When the Afro- 
American woman, particularly a lesbi- 
an, rejects the Euro-American defini- 
tion of womanhood, she shakes the 
foundation of the Black male's man- 
hood, which is often defined as con- 
trolling the Black woman and making 
her subservient. 

The Afro-American woman has 
been denied power and privilege. She 
has been raised expecting to work, as 



she will need to assist in supporting her 
family. She will also be asked to do all 
she possibly can to advance the Black 
man and the Black race — at the cost of 
ignoring the oppression of sexism. In- 
deed, the Black woman has been 
taught from early childhood that one 
way to survive in this society is through 
marriage or in a male-female relation- 
ship. I agree with Barbara Smith when 
she writes: 

Heterosexual privilege is usually the 
only privilege that Black women have. 
None of us have racial or sexual privi- 
lege, almost none of us have class priv- 
ilege, maintaining 'straightness' is our 
last resort. . . . I am convinced that it is 
our lack of privilege and power in every 
other sphere that allows so few Black 
women to make the leap that many 
white women, particularly. . . have 
been able to make this decade. n 

What Black men and some Black 



women have failed to see is that the 
Afro -American woman who chooses to 
bond with another woman is an asset 
to the Black community. As Audre 
Lorde eloquently notes: 

Black women who define ourselves and 
our goals beyond the sphere of a sexual 
relationship can bring to any endeavor 
the realized focus of a complete and 
therefore empowered individual. Black 
women and Black men [should] recog- 
nize that the development of their par- 
ticular strengths and interests does not 
diminish the other. . . . Black women 
sharing close emotional ties with each 
other, politically or economically, are 
not the enemies of Black men. u 

Traditionally, as Lorde points out 
Black women have always bonded to- 
gether in support of each other. Black 
women are very woman-oriented in 
their relationships. The depth of feel- 
ings, love, kinship, and bonding 




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Last three surviving Amazons of Dahomey in 1937. 



75 



among Afro-American women runs 
very deep. One need only examine the 
strong grandmother-mother-daughter 
relationships and friendships of Afro- 
American women to see the quality of 
woman-loving in the Black community. 
Yet the Black woman who openly 
bonds with another woman does not 
have the same types of support systems 
that are available to the Euro-Ameri- 
can lesbian. The Afro- American lesbi- 
an who chooses to be visible often loses 
the support of her friends, her family, 
and the Black community. While the 
Euro-American lesbian may find sup- 
port and a new family in the white les- 
bian community, the Afro-American 
lesbian loses a bond that is crucial to 
her vitality in her struggle as a Third 
World woman in a white racist patri- 
archal society. The Afro-American les- 
bian may adopt the predominantly 
white lesbian community as her sup- 
port system, but she does so at the ex- 
pense of integrating her Blackness with 
her lesbianism. This can leave her 
feeling fragmented. One need only 
read the excerpts of letters from Black 
feminists in the collection so appropri- 
ately titled: "I Am Not Meant to Be 
Alone and Without You Who Under- 
stands." Because of her invisibility 
the Afro-American lesbian does not 
easily find her true lesbian sisters. 

Yet, despite her isolation, the Black 
lesbian is less likely to contemplate sui- 
cide than her white counterpart. IS The 
Black lesbian's attitude is one of sur- 
vival. A friend of mine calls this the 
"make do" syndrome, while I refer to it 
as "there's no such thing as can't." His- 
torically, Black women have experi- 
enced some of the most brutal and 
adverse conditions imaginable, and 
they have survived. This survival re- 
sulted from a knowledge passed on 
through Black culture, which taught 
them an ethos of "you must." One 
need only read the words of Toni Mor- 
rison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice 
Walker, and Angela Davis to under- 
stand the characteristic survival of 
Black women. 16 

The Afro- American woman has 
rarely had the privilege to "cop out," 
as this would mean annihilation. I 
have at times heard Afro-American 



76 




lesbians, in regard to relationships 
with Euro-American lesbians, remark 
about being tired of "Miss Ann" be- 
havior in interactions with Euro-Amer- 
ican women. Some Euro-American les- 
bians have not been forced to analyze 
their political role in the social system 
or come to grips with their own oppres- 
sive behaviors. This becomes a source 
of frustration and tension for the Afro- 
American lesbian. Black women have 
been taught from an early age that life 
is a series of struggles; in order to make 
it, there is no such thing as "can't." 

By virtue of her race, the Euro- 
American woman has a certain power 
and privilege in society not available to 
the Afro-American woman. Family 
connections, education, and wealth 
are all resources that may facilitate the 
visibility of the Euro-American lesbi- 
an. For instance, from an economic 
standpoint, the Euro-American wom- 
an may have the time to generate a 
body of lesbian-feminist ideology, or to 
build a support network through vol- 
unteer activities. The Afro-American 
lesbian, lacking these resources, finds 
herself without a women's center that 
supports her needs and without a body 
of literature that tells her about her 
lesbian sisters. What the Euro-Ameri- 
can lesbian community can offer is a 
sharing of resources so that the Afro- 
American lesbian can build her own 
community and thus become visible. 
All too often, however, what the Afro- 
American lesbian has received is an 
invitation to help the Euro-American 
community work on its racism or re- 
lieve its guilt by becoming the token 
Black in its group. Lorraine Bethel's 
poem "What Chou Mean WE, White 
Girl?" clearly portrays the racism and 
classism in this behavior. " 

Racism extends beyond individual 
attitudes to institutional and cultural 
structures. By remaining silent on this 
issue and failing to take an active 
stance, Euro-American women help to 
perpetuate Black women's oppression. 
My point here is not to "guilt-trip" 
Euro-American women but to energize 
them to use their limited privilege and 
economic resources to fight not only 
sexism but racism as well. If there is to 
be a cohesive lesbian-feminist move- 
ment, the Euro-American lesbian must 
recognize her racism and deal with her 
power and privilege in a manner that 
facilitates such a movement. The hope 
is for a visible and viable Black lesbian 
community, which will help produce 
the building of a united lesbian com- 
munity. 



This article is ; 



,n edited version of a longer 



work 



which appears in Top-Ranking: A Collection nf 
Articles on Racism and Classism in the Le I 
Community, ed. Sara Bennett and Joan GJbT 
(New York: February Third Press, 1980). ' 

1. Audre Lorde, "Scratching the Surface: Som 
Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving " Rl t 
Scholar, Vol. 9, No. 1 (April 1978), p. 54. 

2. Melville Herskovits, who lived among the 
Fon, supports the existence of lesbianism. See his 
Dahomey, Vol. 1 (Evanston: Northwestern Uni 
versity Press, 1967), pp. 320-321. 

3. Laura Bohannan, "Dahomean Marriage- A 
Revaluation," Africa, Vol. 19, No 4 (194m 
pp. 273-287; Eileen Jensen Krige, "Woman- 
Marriage, with Special Reference to the Lovendu 
-Its Significance for the Definition of Mar- 
riage," Africa, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1974), pp. 11. 37. 
Christine Obbo, "Dominant Male Ideology and 
Female Options: Three East African Case Stud- 
ies," Africa, Vol.46, No. 4(1976), pp. 371-389 

4. Obbo, p. 372. 

5. Obbo, p. 374. 

6. Wade Nobles, "Africanity: Its Role in Black 
Families," The Black Family, 2nd Ed., ed 
Robert Staples (Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth 
1978), pp. 19-25. 

7. Sheila Rowbotham, Woman's Consciousness 
Man's World (London: Penguin, 1973). 

8. Barbara Smith, "Toward a Black Feminist 
Criticism," Conditions: Two, Vol. 1, No 2 
(1977), p. 40. 

9. This is not to negate the fact that Euro- 
American lesbians also experience violence, but 
its incidence is lower and the avenues of recourse 
and protection are more numerous for white 
women. It is not unusual for a Black woman to 
call the police and have them never arrive. 

10. Cynthia R. Cauthern, "Nine Hundred Black 
Lesbians Speak," Off Our Backs, Vol. 9, No. 6 
(June 1979), p. 112. 

11. Toni Cade, "On the Issues of Roles," The 
Black Woman, ed. Toni Cade (New York: New 
American Library, 1970), pp. 101-110. 

12. Smith, p. 40. 

13. Lorde, p. 31. 

14. Barbara Smith and Beverly Smith, "I Am 
Not Meant To Be Alone and Without You Who 
Understand: Letters from Black Feminists, 1972- 
1978." Conditions: Four, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1979), 
pp. 62-77. 

15. Alan P. Bell and Martin Weinberg, Homo- 
sexualities (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978). 

16. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (New York: 
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970) and Sula (New 
York: Bantam, 1973); Zora Neale Hurston, 
Mules and Men (New York: Negro Universities 
Press, 1935) and Their Eyes Were Watching 
God (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1937); 
Alice Walker, The Third Life of Grange Cope- 
land (New Y'ork: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 
1970); Angela Davis, If They Come in the Morn- 
ing (new York: Signet, 1971) and "The Black 
Women's Role in the Community of Slaves," 
Black Scholar (Dec. 1971), pp. 5-14. 

17. Lorraine Bethel, "What Chou Mean We, 
White Girl? OR; The Cullud Lesbian Feminist 
Declaration of Independence (Dedicated to the 
Proposition That All Women Are Not Equal, 
I.E., IDENTICAL/LY OPPRESSED)," Condi- 
tions: Five, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1979), pp. 86-92. 



Vickie M. Mays, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor 
of Clinical Psychology at UCLA. She teaches 
and does research and community consultation 
centering around Black women's issues. She is 
also a psychotherapist. 



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I met a woman whose colors I could not see. I met a woman whose colors I could not see. They were 
X" not apparent. I did not know if I liked her. We talked a little at first. There were other people. _V 

talked a little back and forth. To each other. What I can say is that I didn't know if I liked her. We 
t a u n d d talked about my work some. She was stiff . Removed. We talked about her work Some. She was 

St stiff Removed. Overworked attitudes. Repeated often. I only just met her. I only was making 

conversation. I didn't think I liked the way she acted. Actually I don't know if I liked her. I sort of 
might not have liked her. But then we had only talked a little. There were other people. could not 
t? see her colors. This woman held her colors close. That is one perception. She held her coors inside. 

She put them away. They were not seeping out. Even a tiny bit. This woman had no colon. I 
met a woman who had no colors. Is there light. Is there white. Amass. No colors. I talked a 
little Wetalkedsome. I stuck around. I felt myself showing off a little. In somewhat or not subtle 
ways. So she would see. Maybe she would see me. I pretended I did not see her. Whi el was 
showing off. Only a little. I did not think I liked her. I felt maybe I didn t like her. Why did I 
want her to see me. The other people. They talked to this woman. They talked to me. All of us 
left Together we drove in a car. We went for a dance. I danced with all the women. I danced with 
her We did not look. At each other. Except a little. We danced separately for each other. That is 
» one perception. I danced for myself . Only. She danced for herself . Only too. I danced or all the 

women there. I danced for the joy of my body. I danced for the joy of my spirit. Only did I do this. 
I danced for her. I danced in spite of her. She danced. She danced. A .little we looked A t each 
other A little we smiled. At each other. I was aware of her presence at the table. We all sat. I heard 
her silence. I saw her talk. I was aware. Of her at the table. In the corner. She sat in the corner. 
Looking out. She looked out. In all directions. We did not talk. Only a little. I talked to the women 
at the table. I talked to the women not at the table. I knew this woman without colors was sitting at 
the table Where were her colors. Seven days. I did not forget her. I did not forget the white 
Was it white. Seven days. Other women asked me out. We will go out. We will eat together We 
will eat together at someone's house. I wanted to ask the woman who I did not know if I liked a little. 
I said to the other women. Would it be all right. I want to ask this woman I said. Maybe she will 
want to come. Maybe they said. I am going to ask. I called. A voice answered. It did not sound 
like her There was breath. Breath was what I heard. Perhaps no colors make this sound. I did 
not know if I liked this sound. I did not think I liked this sound. I spoke to her. I asked her. 
Yes she said. Yes she would. She would like to. Yes. She would. I would pick her up. I won- 
dered Why did I call her. Why would I call her. No colors. I could not say then she had no 
colors I felt no colors. I could not say it. I drove to get her. I felt excited. In the car. I didn t 
know if I liked her. There were no colors. I walked to a door. Was this her door. The woman 
who looked out. Out from the corner. At the table. The woman who watched. The woman who ^ 
was quiet. The voice said come in. I walked inside. Inside I paced. Nervously. I smiled. I didn t 
smile I walked. I was being nice. I talked. I nervously talked. We talked. Seriously. My face 
was serious. Her face was serious. Her tone was serious. No colors. We left. What took you so 
long the other women wanted to know. We were going to leave without you. Nothing I replied. What 
had taken me so long. Our talking a little. We're here now. We all went in the same car. I drove 
the car The woman I did not know if I liked a little sat in the front . The women in the back talked 
I talked back to them. She talked a little back to them. I felt aware of her. We got to the house. It 
was one room. There was a woman there I did not like. They had started eating. We dished out 
food I sat on the floor. The woman with no colors sat on the floor. Six feet away. I felt discomfort. 
One room. Onfe woman I did not like. People talking. Everyone tries. Some take responsibility. I 
begin with comments. I make comments. I ask questions. What do you mean. How can that be. 
>- I disagree. I make comments on everything. I glance at the woman six feet away. A little. She does 



77 



© 1981 AlesiaKunz 



not see me. She is looking at who's talking. I feel disappointed. I was talking. She talks. I watch 
her. She does not agree. I am glad. I appreciate she does not agree. I smile. She might see me 
I talk. I say I do not agree. I say that is bullshit. She smiles. She might laugh a little. She looks 
at me. She appreciates me saying bullshit. I appreciate her. The woman who has the one room says 
I am impossible. Can't I lighten up. I am just trying to find some interest. I just want some interest- 
ing talk I say. In this one room. I'm not trying to be difficult I say. In one room. I wonder. To 
myself. Am I trying to be difficult. There is only one room. I was feeling nervous. I was bored I 
wanted interest. I wanted to hear talk. To hear the woman talk. The woman six feet away. On the 
floor. I made comments. I disagree I said. I asked questions. I was being difficult they said. In 
this room. This one room. That was one perception. I ate food. I talked. I watched. The woman 
with no colors was serious. She was acting a little difficult. She was difficult. A little. I liked it. I 
smiled. We left. I pushed conversation in the back seat. I pushed. The woman with no colors sat 
quiet. She heard everything. But there were no colors. What could I do. I did not know. I needed 
to do something. There was nothing. I pushed conversation in the back. I would take her home. 
First. I would drop her first. I had to. What could I do. You can leave me here. She said this. 
The end of the drive. Just leave me here. All right. Here. Goodnight. Into the back. Goodnight. 
Goodnight into the front. She put her hand on my thigh. For one millisecond. A millisecond pres- 
sure. It shot through. It shot through my body. My whole body felt. My whole body felt the touch. 
Brief. A brief touch. That is one perception. The touch lasts forever. It lasts. It is lasting. It is 
here. Here. Here now. Here it is. Right here. Now. On my thigh. In my body. Within. 
Within me. Out. Out of me. It is lasting out. Out there. Out here. In air. Existing for itself. 
I can touch. I can touch it. I do. So. Where is it. Where does it exist. Where is it within. 
Where without. The woman with no colors. She is not here. She is walking. She walks to her house. 
She stands on her steps. She opens the door. She walks in. I drive. I drive away. Away from there. 
Away from the woman with no colors. Away. Away from the touch. From the hand. Why did she 
do that. What did it mean. Friendly. She was being friendly. Just friendly. I was anyone. I could 
have been anyone. I was anyone. It wasn't me. Not me. It didn't matter. It was someone. Just 
someone. Anyone. Why though. No colors. I drove with quiet. Outside. Stillness. Outside. 
Inside. No. No quiet. Questions. Feelings. Thoughts. Inside. Inside. Inside. Seven days. 
Seven days. We are going to a festival . Everyone. We all arrive. She arrived. We talk. She talks 
a little. She watches. There are many people. All talk. Talk. Talk. No silence. She leaves. I 
feel disappointed. We did not talk a little. A little maybe. Only. Only a little. She said I'm 
leaving. Before she left. In seven days. I'll be where you are. Where you work. In seven days. I 
am on business. I must go there. For business. I must meet people. For business. I will be there. 
Call me. Maybe. Maybe call me. Maybe I'll be there. I don't know. Maybe. Maybe we can do 
something. Get together. Maybe. May get together. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe. We'll see. 
Maybe. We'll see what happens. What happens. Just wait. Wait a little. A little. So. See you. 
See you. She was gone. No colors. Nonchalance. With an edge. A little edge. Maybe. An 
edge. That is one perception. No nonchalance. Candor. No edge. Just edge. No. A little 
something. Candor. With nothing. Candor with something. With something. I couldn't say 
what. Something. I think. I think about it. For seven days. Will she call. Seven days. Who 
will she see. What is she doing. For seven days. What will we say. I thought. I thought about it. 
Seven days. The day came. After seven days. The day came. I was not there. I was somewhere. 
Not there. Not where she was. I was in another place. Afternoon came. I was not there. I called to 
say I would be late. No she's not here. She's not here. She tried calling. She tried. All day. Yes. 
All day. She couldn't reach you. She left. She may try tonight. On her way back. Still a chance 
Still. A chance. I thought. Maybe. Still. I didn't move. Not then. Not yet. It was late. Still 
I stayed. Away. I was aware. Still. No movement. Not then. Not yet. No move Still Still I 
stayed. I talked. Still I talked. I got up. I decided. I left. It was late. I was late. On the high- 
way. I stepped on it. I sped. I went fast. It was late. I walked in my door. It was late. I picked 





o 



78 





3 



in 



up the phone. I called. Nothing. No one. She was not there. I put it down. I walked outside. 
The phone. I ran in. I ran in. Ran. Hello. Oh hi. Sure. C'mon over. I put the phone back. 
I put it down. She's coming. She's coming here. Now. Right now. Oh. What do I do. Do. 
What say. What will I say. I said. To myself . Out loud. I brought my stuff in. I brought it all 
in. I pushed things. Touched things. Looked. I walked. I walked. What do I do. The door. 
Hi. C'mon in. The woman with no colors. There they were. No colors. I felt them. No colors. 
So powerful no colors. So much right there. In the second. In space. Immediate. Right here to 
see. See. Nerves. I had a case. Nervous. Did she see. I talked. Trying to get a feeling. A 
feeling of her. Of her. Her. Who was she. She. I offered her things. To drink. To eat. 
Coffee. She wanted coffee. She sat one place. I sat one place. Different places. We faced. From 
different places. Talked. Talked. No colors. I looked. I looked at her. She talked. Seriously. 
She talked seriously. Her face was serious. I faced her. I talked. Seriously. I looked. I looked at 
her. She drank coffee. She talked. She looked. She looked at me. A little. We went out. To 
eat. We faced each other. Across the table. We talked. She talked. I talked. She laughed. I 
laughed. I smiled. We talked. We laughed. Seriously. We came home. We sat. Facing each 
other. We talked. We looked. We looked at each other. While we talked. We laughed. We 
talked. Nerves. Active. Nervous. I felt nervous. What do I do. What do I do now. She sat. 
Sat talking. Calm. She was calm. Contained. She was contained. No colors. I spun. Spinning. 
Circles. What do I do. What does she think. Is she. Thinking anything. About me. About the 
way I am. This situation. Who I am. No. No colors. I talk. I say nothing. She says nothing. 
I get up. I go to bed. I read. She turns her light out. I read. I turn my light out. I think. I 
think about her. I think about her. Out there. In the room. In the other room. In bed. I am in 
bed. I feel nervous. I lie in bed. I am stiff . I fall asleep. I dream. I dream of her. I dream 
of us. Both. We want to get together. Not a wanting. Not want. Something. We both wanted. 
To get together. It was understood. Silently. Agreed. Clear. Bright. Light. Very light. Easy. 
Very easy. No strain. No trying. A fact. The night lingered. I tossed. Part in sleep. Part in 
wake. Morning. I went through. To the bathroom. She slept. The woman with no colors. She 
lay. Sleeping. No movement. Only the head. I glanced. I looked. Quickly. I saw her head. 
A little. Would she wake. Would I leave. Before she waked. No. She must wake. I walked 
through. The bathroom. Closet. Kitchen. Bathroom. Closet. Kitchen. She moved. I hoped. 
No. Nothing. I was ready. To leave. To work. She moved. Hi. Slowly. She talked. Slowly. 
With sleep. I put on water. For coffee. I stayed. She got up. Made her coffee. We sat. I was 
ready. We faced each other. We talked. The clock ticked. I told her. My dream. Except one 
part. About wanting to get together. Everything else. I told. She dreamed. She told. Bones. 
Bones. No colors. The clock. Late. One hour. One hour late. I wanted to stay. I had to go. 
I had nothing to say. What could I say. I got up. I better go. So long. So long. So long. Seven 
days. Seven. Seven days. I thought. About her. About the evening. About. About. About. 
Tentative. I felt tentative. Wanting to move. To move. To move slowly. Slowly toward her. 
Toward her. Slowly. So slowly. To move. Moving. Moving toward her. Slowly. Slowly toward 
her. Feeling. Feeling the move. Feeling the movement. Feeling myself. Feeling. Feeling myself 
move. Feeling myself wanting to move. Feeling moving toward. Feeling moving toward. Feeling 
myself moving slowly. Moving slowly toward. Moving slowly toward her. Feeling myself. Moving 
slowly. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly feeling myself. Moving. Slowly. Slowly. Toward no colors. 
Toward no colors. Toward. Toward. Slowly toward. No colors. Moving slowly. Moving. Slowly. 
Feeling slowly moving. Feeling slowly moving. Feeling slowly moving. Toward no colors. No colors. 
Moving toward no colors. 

Alesia Kunz's novel Shangrila and Linda is being published in May 1981. Her writing appears in Artforum, Cloven Hoof, Criss-Cross, Joyous 
Struggle, Quest: A Feminist Journal, Working from Silence. 

79 




Years ago, a couple of weeks after I decided to append the 
word "lesbian" to my identity, I met a lesbian from another 
town in Wisconsin who asked if I'd like to spend a weekend 
with her. I jumped at the chance: lesbians in Green Bay 
were (are?) very secretive and I hadn't found any yet. When 
I showed up the following Friday, one of her first comments 
was, "I hope you didn't get the idea that we were going to 
sleep together. " That was my first case of unrequited lust. 

Perhaps since I never read anything in the "teenage ro- 
mance" genre, I managed to escape the goal of love and 
marriage as an adult. Coming out in Wisconsin, my first 
experience of other lesbian lifestyles was the obsessive desire 
not to let anyone know. Having also seemingly escaped much 
of the programming about how bad it was to be homosexual, 
my first glimpse of the closeted mentality was from the out- 
side. Ever since, I have been fascinated with watching lesbi- 
ans who structure their lives so that the only difference be- 
tween them and their neighbors is their choice of partner. 
Does not lesbianism itself make one an outlaw? While one 
may perhaps argue the validity of this premise politically, it 
appears that many lesbians live highly successful lives (by 
their own assessment) by making that one change in sexual 
preference, and then closing the door on further tampering 
with society's expectations. In fact, all of us stop tampering 
at some point: it is impossible to exist solely in a vortex. It 
appears, however, that most lesbian-feminists have preferred 
not to admit that they have, indeed, stopped short of con- 
fronting sexual change. 

Every lesbian knows that it is her sexual preference that 
makes her "different." However, our male-dominated soci- 
ety makes it difficult to sort out what sexuality is. Specifi- 
cally, we are ill-equipped to deal with the process of being 
sexual: we lack the behavior patterns. 

/ met her at the bar. She swaggered in and ordered a beer. I 
motioned that she was welcome to join me at my table. We 
introduced ourselves, giving name and job. We eyed each 
other— watching the movements, the fingering of the beer 
bottles, the jerked drinking. After the appropriate discus- 
sion of local geography, I asked her if she was free later that 
night. She said, no, she had to get to work early the next 
morning; how about the following night. She drove me 
home to see where I lived. She showed up promptly the next 



night. We had a beer each before going to bed. We made 
love. The next morning, she said, "This is never going to 
ivork; we're both butch. " I punched her in the mouth. I'm 
not sure whether I did it because of her knee-jerk conception 
of butch /femme or because I was furious that she thought 
that it had to turn into a relationship. 

What sexual behavior are we programmed to display? In 
earlier stages of the feminist movement, it was important to 
emphasize the physiological process of orgasm. The focus 
was that women had been programmed not to expect or- 
gasms, not to expect pleasure from sexual relationships. 
While it was eminently clear that Woman's energy had been 
diverted into the quest for Love, there have been few chal- 
lenges to the primacy of Love in relating to other people. 

What is Love? I am speaking here of the romantic inves- 
titure of the loved one with mythological power. Prince 
Charming was supposed to sweep us off our feet. Now Prin- 
cess Charming may do the same. In either case, the process 
is one of objectifying one's lover into a projection of pieces of 
oneself. Because we have projected ourselves onto the lover, 
the lover then becomes necessary for self-esteem. This is ex- 
actly the sequence patriarchal society expects of its partici- 
pants: women project their strength onto their men; men 
project their emotions onto their women. From the woman's 
perspective, it is only possible to feel powerful through one's 
partner. Furthermore, since women's sexuality had to be 
controlled (for patrilineal purposes), the easy solution was to 
use the sex = love equation. 

She stood at the edge of the party's conversation group. Her 
face, while impassive, was notable because of the spark in 
her eyes as she watched the other women. I was awed by the 
fireworks display. A voice inside said, "Get to know her; she 
will be very important in your life. " But is this lust or is this 
love? 

Lesbians are being trapped by the same myth which cre- 
ated many a desperate housewife. The myth is apparent in 
our literature. While Isabel Miller's (Alma Routsong's) 
Patience and Sarah had the laudable mission of showing a 
positive lesbian relationship in which neither of the partners 
went mad or died prematurely, it read like a Candy Striper 
romance. Sally Gearhart, in The Wanderground, showed 






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© 1981 J. Lee Lehman 



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love transcending racial and age boundaries; she still did not 
get beyond making her characters love objects. 

The placing of women on pedestals — even if covered by 
labyrises and women's symbols — is not an especially healthy 
process. All the romance in the world cannot hide the fact 
that good sex is an intense form of communication. The 
power of sexuality — recognized for centuries by occultists — 
is overwhelming to some. Furthermore, the words and con- 
cepts kicking around for "orgasms"— surrender, little death, 
etc.— convey a power which has been essentially ignored in 
most feminist discussions. Rather than confront the reality 
of this power, many have opted for the traditional (meaning 
imposed) women's solution: it's all right if it's with someone 
you love. There is an implicit assumption that as long as 
trust and caring are present, then everything's okay. While 
sex with a loved one may be desirable, it is not necessary. 

The lesbian community around Rutgers University in the 
early seventies was of the mind that every woman should 
meet Princess Charming and settle down. Unfortunately, it 
was too obvious that most were hopping from one Princess to 
the next, with barely a week in between. Furthermore, it was 
very difficult for me to appear in the guise of someone else's 
Princess when my most rhapsodic speeches were devoted to 
the algae I was studying in grad school, called "pond scum" 
by my more sympathetic friends. Semesters were turning 
into years and I was turning into a horned toad. I decided to 
try New York City. Ah, to live only a few blocks from the 
watering holes! But there was a new problem. While the 
word "nonmonogamy" had crept into the lesbian vocabulary- 
by then, one zoas still not supposed to objectify one's sisters. 
Asa political junkie, my lifestyle got raised eyebrows at best 
— especially when I insisted on using words like "trick" at 
lesbian- feminist meetings. 

It is important to realize that projection onto the loved 
one is objectification. The love object — the solution to one's 
needs — blinds us to the possibility of relating to the lover as 
she really is. The objectification of True Love is no less 
tyrannical than the classic "male" objectification of Woman 
as Tits-n-Ass. However, since it is always easier to see others' 
problems, we as feminists become obsessed with Tits-n-Ass 
objectification by men, without seeing our own objectifica- 
tion patterns. This selective vision results in putting down 
women who engage in, or seem to engage in, physical objec- 
tification of other women, while ignoring the more pervasive 
emotional objectification of other women. 

Why is it that no one objects if one chooses to limit a re- 
lationship with another woman to one specific area — as long 
as that one area isn't sex? Why is it all right to do nothing 
but go bowling with another woman, but not all right just to 
have sex with her? I would submit that the view that sex is so 
different from other activities is a hang-over from patriarch- 
al society. Is one activity really more objectifying than the 
other? Or in both cases is it simply the recognition that the 



activity is something that both enjoy sharing with the other? 
A portion of the romantic myth is based on the idea that 
there is one person for each of us who complements us per- 
fectly. Hence, the admission that it is possible to live a very 
satisfactory life by partitioning one's emotional and sexual 
life among a number of people can be very frightening. 
While most lesbians would admit that it is okay, possibly de- 
sirable, to partition one's emotional life between a number 
of friends, it is harder for many to accept the corollary that 
one can do the same with one's sex life. This attitude makes 
it difficult for the woman to find any positive value in ex- 
ploring new ways of expressing her sexuality, or in finding 
new issues to express through her sexuality. This, I believe, is 
the reason that some lesbian-feminists have trashed or cen- 
sored other lesbians who have tried to address lesbian sexu- 
ality in new ways. I remember in particular the scathing 
personal attack in Big Mama Rag on Tee Corinne's talk/ 
slide show "Lesbian Sexual Images in the Fine Arts" in the 
summer of 1979. Witness more recently the vehement (or 
should I say violent) reaction to the open discussion of lesbi- 
an S/M. Could it be that some lesbians are afraid to really 
confront the taboo of woman enjoying — and defining — sex? 
The ultimate question, I believe, lies in what one wants 
to get out of sex. If one views sex as only a means of express- 
ing love, then loveless sex is meaningless. However, this is 
not the only view possible. To me, sex is an expression of an 
affinity with another person, and that affinity can exist on 
only one or on many levels. 

/ was furious with her for what she was saying at the Coali- 
tion meeting. Half-baked political statements, dropped with 
a sprinkling of "and (**STAR**) says. . . " We went out 
drinking afterwards and argued for another few hours. We 
closed the bar, and went to my apartment to continue talk- 
ing. Soon we were kissing instead, embracing, then pulling 
each other's clothes off. Is this lust or is this love? Do I care?!!! 

Change is a stressful process. Sex is one Field of experience 
in which all feminists must change, because there has been 
such neglect of our sexuality in the past. It is important that 
we be open to new models of behavior, and not be too quick 
to dismiss what at first may not seem to fit our political ex- 
pectations. 

And this brings us back to lust. Lust as an expression of 
sexual desire can represent an affirmation of our collective 
right to unfettered, unguilty, undefined sexuality. It is an 
appreciation of another's — and one's own — sexual dyna- 
mism. Lust is an assertive statement of the positive virtues of 
sexual exploration. Can we be truly said to have explored 
the limits of lesbian sexuality when all we have done is to sub- 
stitute Love-and-Living-Together for Love-and-Marriage? 

J. Lee Lehman is an astrologer and computer freak. Her latest projects are 
computer-calculated astrological positions of asteroids, including Sappho, 
Lilitha, and Pandora. 



Lovenotes II and IV 



You drew your foot up and down my leg 
Underneath the bridge table 
And I forgot my opening bid, 
Wondering what you could do 
With the rest of your body. 



I wish that you would wallow 
In my body, like a little buffalo. 



Janet Ruth Heller 



Janet Ruth Heller, Coordinator of the Writing Tutor Program at the University of Chicago, is a co-editor of Prhna-vera, a women's literary magazine. 



© 1981 Janet Ruth Heller 



81 



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Objects come to me. They float mid-air. They move 
alone or in groups. Flight patterns glide in and around me. 
From these images I make my sculpture. 

One day, nine years ago, while cooking dinner, I had a 
walloping orgasm. I felt astounded; it was so unexpected. 
The circumstances certainly did not warrant a sexual re- 
sponse. Pleased but confused I put the experience out of my 
mind. 

A few days passed. I felt strange. I felt an urgent need to 
paint cookies. As an artist, I could somewhat reasonably 
allow myself to do this. I was skeptical, but the mystery was 
more compelling. I painted cookies for several weeks. The 
choice was easy: they had to be gingersnaps. Peek Frean's 
gingercrisps were the right size, texture, and snappy taste. 
My perfect cookie. I shopped several stores each day. I was 
afraid someone would catch me. I went wherever my food 
stamps would take me. In my home I left piles of them 
around all the rooms. 

I began to see the cookies pushing out of a wall of molten 
fudge, sensuous mounds of thick heavy fudge. What was I to 
do? Working intuitively, accepting the cookies, reaffirmed 
me as never before. Painting them gave me pleasure. I felt 
calm at work, with long attention spans. When I stopped, 
I felt satisfied and happy. My body told me so. I was tapping 
my own deep reserves. My life already felt changed. So I 
waited, content to paint cookies and think about fudge. 

One day I whipped up Ivory Snow Flakes. The soap 
peaked and made luscious mounds. They stood firm with 
taut edges. Quickly I put the suds on a board and slipped the 
cookies in. They held there balanced in the soap. It was 
beautiful, but it just wasn't right. It was okay, but I felt 
disturbed. I wanted something more, something with more 
body. Something I could really move and get into . . . plaster! 
Yes. Yes! I had some. I got a pot, a bucket, water and set to 
mix. Oh, I could feel it slipping over my hands, circling 
around my fingers. It thickened and grew heavier, clinging 
to my fist. I waited for the right touch before pouring. My 
stars, my floors! I was unprepared. I had to get some plastic, 
a box, towels, clean water. I ran around grabbing things, 
rushing to get back to my work site. I was afraid the plaster 
might harden. Not a moment too soon. Pour. The bucket 
was heavy to lift. I worried the whole thing might fall apart. 
I took a deep breath, exhaling, letting the plaster go. It fell 
well. I thought I sang, but I had no time to think. I picked 
up a bunch of cookies. One by one I pushed them into the 
plaster. Green, push scoop. Grey, push scoop. Lavender, 
push scoop, push scoop. The plaster got harder. Plunge 
twist, twist, till no more would go with discretion. 

Dazed, I stared at what I made. My body flashed heat. 
The sculpture there, its sight in my mind imprints overlays, 
registered and connected. It was the image that sparked the 
orgasm. The thought of those beautiful circles slipping in 

82 



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and out of their matrix ... I came upon the creation of my 
pleasuring and joy. The kitchen happening was brought 
back again by making the sculpture. 

I was eager to understand how and what I was thinking. 
It seemed to secure a transformative power intrinsically 
connected to my coming out. That process of our sexual 
revolution that individualizes and stands us apart. I had 
always known I loved women, but coming to terms with 
myself, the culture and countercultures around me, took 
time and patience. The give and take of the sculpture 
showed me a way. Visualizing the cookies in my mind, 
making the choice of materials, and placing each cookie into 
the plaster were activities beyond the psychic and cultural 
censorship that normally tempered my thinking. I came into 
contact with my own desires. 

Within this state of eroticism lay an incredible strength. 
I realized I was the only person responsible for my sexual 
excitement. Further, it gave me an experience of independ- 
ence. It was a powerful vision. I stood alone and it scared 
me. My images came back terrifying and bloody, threatened 
by my independence; I was ready to call myself back. 
Instead of being overwhelmed by anxiety and fear, I held to 
the confidence gained by the cookies experience. I found 
myself free to voice my confidence and pleasure as well as 
fear and terror. I made plaster cakes that consisted of shards 
of mirror, little animals, broken, being engulfed by plaster, 
sliding to oblivion; or another cake with garishly painted 
animal cracker cookies surrounding, taunting, one 
screaming red-mouthed bear at the center. 

By placing myself and intimate glimpses of my imagina- 
tion into my work, the body of sculpture I made gave me the 
opportunity to speak out, accept as my own, make art for 
and from all the voices within me. Face to face with the body 
of work I could give them their due. With practice I could 
connect concrete events and feelings that keyed off the 
images. Knowing this I could separate and demystify them. 
Recognizing, accepting, speaking, or making art about 

© 1981 Sandra DeSando 





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the things that concerned me led me to understand a per- 
sonal limit to my terror in both inward and outward acts of 
violence. The primacy of their existence relied on the fact of 
created and sustained dependence, possession bound by a 
net of forgetfulness and a promise of power. It required I 
silence my own needs, be unresponsive, deadened to my own 
injury and anger. It consistently fed an undercurrent of fail- 
ure that twisted my ideas of pleasuring, combining them 
with hatred. Until now. I saw myself in place, unguarded, 
my memory acute. Resolved: to make myself responsive and 
responsible. Situations of power and powerlessness became 
nudged with the recognition of change. 

Alternatives and choices came over a longer period of 
time. The cookies model held within its context the idea and 
action of self-reliance. It was based on the constant utiliza- 
tion of my own resources. It gave a growing sense of security 
that was not easily undermined. The images were my 
immediate response to a given situation. I was learning to 
respect their value. From them I made art that was clearly 
my own. It was a willing tapping and response of my reason- 
ing abilities. This touching, testing, and reassuring allowed 
me to place myself closer and closer to intimate spaces, 
deeply personal places with unique perspectives. Places 
where I could stand supported by my own effort and come 
away with a sense of dignity, grace, and power. It took con- 
scious, imagined, and practiced effort. 

As the image and art-making phase of my life grew I 
began to take notice of this peculiar awareness during love- 
making. I would remember small patches. It was like waking 
up from a dream thinking how clear and important it was, 
but immediately being unable to remember the dream or 
what it meant. Cookies and milk flew out from an incredible 
core source. It seemed ultimately important to see my sex, 
my sensual and loving senses within the same state of eroti- 
cism. I was eager to make love to women who shared this 
same sense of personal power and autonomy. 




Sandra De Sando 



We have been lovers for about four or five months; we 
share the same loft. It's difficult for me to share the space. 
It's hard to keep my mind on drawing when there are other 
sounds and movements. I turn and watch her working or 
walking getting supplies. My work time wears down; I look 
at her more and more. Sometimes it is her face. I remember 
seeing it tensed or relaxed as we talked and made decisions 
together. Many times it is her behind and inseam. It's those 
damned Levi's. I know why she likes them. They fit her so 
well. Low on her hips, that fold of material at the cross of 
her thighs. 

I give up trying to work. I keep thinking about her 
T-shirt, how it falls loose off her nipples. Or how her back 
muscles tense and swell as she rolls up ink at the workshop. I 
walk by her a couple of times to get a closer look. Wrist, 
elbow, ear, brown spot beauty mark. Ink on her cheek. I 
stroke her stomach, but she wants to work. It isn't until 
much later, an Ironsides, MASH, Jokers Wild and Bowling 
for Dollars later, that we both get a little buzzy. 

She is standing at her drawing desk. She smiles. She 
walks over and cups her body with mine. I hold her for 
awhile; she turns and begins kissing my neck, face, mouth. 
We kiss until my knees drop me to the studio floor. I search 
for the nub of her jeans. I smell for it, grabbing it with my 
teeth. The denim is harsh, the zippers cold metal in my 
mouth. I adjust my.grip and pull her with my teeth; drag- 
ging her growling and laughing, sliding her over the floor. 
Her legs lock over my back. She tries smothering my face 
with my shirt. My saliva soaks through her jeans. I won't give 
up my hold, she hers. Laughing, we move to the bed without 
letting go. We undress each other as we stumble up the 
ladder, fighting to get there first. Stubbing toes, bumping 
knees in the rush. 

Once there we slow. Wrapped under covers we caress. 
Warm exchanges pass through us. My hands, my tongue, 
reach out to her breast and inner hip. To her back and 
shoulder blades, to the nape of her neck, to her clavicle, 
back down to her nipple. Sometimes she sucks and bites on 
my breast. We take our time. Her hands kneading me. 
Rubbing me. Me needing deep muscle relaxation. Her 
touch excites me. My touch excites me. My vulva grows fat; 
my vagina gradually loosens. Slowly the concentration builds 
a series of shimmers within me; happy, my cunt shakes them 
out in small concentric bands. Each section I open, wet a 
little more, a little wider, a little deeper. Hotter. My clitoris 
urges me on to more movement. I find myself biting her ass, 
sucking in each cheek, gliding my spit into her asshole. She 
turns and my teeth rub her hip. Up and down, up and down, 
sliding to her belly, nose first to the button, my chin bristling 
on her hair. I listen to myself breathing. Going layers down. 
Then a snap; tension gone. A breakthrough. One of many. 
Access and suspense in inner body reasoning: I look forward 

83 



to our slow nudges. Waiting for our bodies to signal move- 
ment. We lie rocking, rocking gently, rolling down the trem- 
ors. Cradling our heat, feeding our openings until our 
. bodies are jelly, reluctant to hold tension. New life floods the 
back of my head, rattles and rolls my heart alive. Winding 
through my ovaries it flips the switches of my clit in time 
with the grab and release of my vaginal walls. 
I rest. She begins again. We perform meditation rituals; 
we work together; thrust, rub, return, circle. We shimmer 
bone to bone and wait for the right of passage, a thoracic 
ball of light suspended between us. Moving together we form 
figure eights, crossing X marking the spot. We spark and 
court a toss of the hip; a sigh and a shoulder fall through to 
the heart. Valentine fingers sneak through a passageway. 
We meet at lips. Twist, tie, lock tongues together alligator 
rough. Come again. 

There is a feeling of remembrance. A feeling of bound- 
ary and threshold. I know something is within my reach. 

Carol asks if I am ready to buzz. She places the vibrator 
between us. In a second we begin. I turn it on low. The 
vibrations make us giggle. A goofy sort of feeling, almost too 
strong too soon. It feels like it will open our bellies. We keep 
losing our breath until we channel the flow. Then sighs, 
breaths, sighs. Slowly sliding to the right, no, too quick. 
Nudging gently to the center, no not there. Over slowly to 
the left. A spark, yes, but oh, too strong; it's gone. 

Moving our hips in lighter motions, we look for that 
spark, that tension, that pinch of response. In an all-around 
body wrap we fit snug, thighs, feet, stomachs, breasts, face 
to face. Seeking pleasure in the unity of motion. My muscles 
stutter as the passage widens. We work each shudder, 
smoothing it from a lump, a bump, to a lengthening wave. 
Reuniting the thread of cell to cell relay. Smiling, I feel my 
body respond to my lover's changes. Intrigued by our body 
commands, we grasp, suspend, release, spiral, let go. Waves 
of heat lift my hair. From my middle light and space. A 
Fallopian twist and twinge skirt my interior. Colors encour- 
age me. Pictures seduce me. Then they are gone. I relax, 
breathe again. Images roll. Music. Dancing shoes rocking, 
revolving. Fish sing winking their eyes and turn into houses 
and rooms. Ecstasy. Hats high-step with pearls and opals. 
Parades of buttons wearing Minnie Mouse gloves and shoes 
sing just a few words. I keep repeating it; then it is over. I 
want more. There's a place I've been. I know it. Knowing it, 
I have to go on. 

I move off her body. I massage her and stretch her legs, 
rubbing sweat off her stomach. I spread her tangled hair, 
my fingers monitor the channel. That touch, her wet and 
open, loosens a knot in my wrist that snaps to my elbow, 
whizzes through my shoulder, and wakes a space behind my 
right ear. . . my eye startled. My mouth ooohs. I watch her as 
I slip the dildo in, small nuzzles at first. She arches, lifts. 
"Take it out a little." "Okay, how about here." "Yes, better, 



good. What about you?" "Yes, soon." I know I have to be 
careful. She and I work swiftly. I am so wet I lose my g r i C 
stabilize, and suddenly it's in me too. A voluptuous bod^' 
response. I almost let go. We waver, not quite ready f or 
movement. We wait for the intensity to subside. We kiss 
again, deep in behind rough edges on teeth into soft g urns 
Mouths open sucking tongues out their length. Their roueh 
ness tempered by spit, their underneath slick as they turn 
against each other. Carol swings her head. I grip an earlob 
humming in her ear. She counters, squish wriggling her ^ 
tongue a total sound in my ear. Goose bumps haze me. My 
heart takes leave of me. I feel its hot place in my chest. I am 
suspended in the wait of its return. A few moments pass, it's 
back. Its journey now a message in my own body language 
Speaks passing on a beat report beat. Her body lifts to mine 
I pass the movement back. I grip her throat in my teeth. 
Gently drawing my mouth closed as I lift off, letting go as I 
leave her, trailing off, feeling my teeth dry against her skin. 
Lost until the first wave hits me hard. Wrenched, warped 
until it eases its spell. It too spreads its story. Its language I 
barely understand, but care, desire to follow. 

I curl my legs around, spread wide on top of her. Re- 
membering ribbon or colored nylon rappeling line. Think- 
ing of it as part of my vagina, circling through, right near 
the edge. Tugging it, loosening it, widening it, tugging it, 
closed again. Feeling the strength of its connection to my ' 
clitoral pulse. That hard bead, that one point taking shape, 
spreading pleasure, filling every nook and cranny my mind ' 
and body can create. We work hard. Muscles gather tight- 
ened, my breath far from slow delirium. Crunching, bone 
jerking movement, patterned, patterned over and over 
again. Tensed to slow motion, trying to hear. Voices I have 
waited for so long in silence ... I am here. Yes, I am here, I 
am ready. I am here. It is time. My body snaps, stiffens, 
convulses, screams yodeling yes. Voices come alive. God- 
mothers gossips all. I spin. It is wonderful. Yahooing, hoot- 
ing. My body shakes with pleasure. Orbiting. Laughing, 
feeling my strength. The centrifugal pull, hair flowing, 
lungs screaming, legs moving running streaming whirling. 
All of me joined together, reaching a place so clean it has a 
rich moist growing smell . 

Slowed, my heart beat wavers, my breath rasps to sighs, 
my blood simmers and levels. I stand alone, curious. I settle 
to the ground. Thinking of the dimensions of this place. I 
walk for a while. I wander through the city exhilarated by its 
beauty. Soothed and open I feel a familiar peace. The 
orgasm wanes. I find a mound I like. It is covered with deep 
grass. I lie down comfortable on its springiness. It smells of 
rich earth. I think: things grow well here. 

Sandra De Sando is a portrait artist, sculptor, and Associate Director of 
Hibbs Gallery, NYC. She enjoys meeting other women and making love. 
No taboos, no guilt, just women loving women. 



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It took me almost forty years of at- 
tempts at erotic fulfillment to find out 
that my sexuality remained at a stage 
short of the kind considered normal or 
genital. My whole body remained open 
and waiting like a wound; my genital 
parts were only two folds among many, 
rather like a fabric unrolling to wel- 
come those whom I loved. I uncovered 
what made my sexuality what it is as I 
looked back at the story of my love of 
fabrics and as I looked at my quilts. 

When I was a child, in the early 
thirties in Bulgaria, there were no 
ready-made clothes. Every year, in 
early spring, a seamstress came to our 
house to do the sewing for everyone 
but my father (he had his tailor in the 
center of town). 

I both loved and hated the times 
the seamstress was •> there. The chil- 
dren's room was turned into her work- 
room. The decisions about the colors 
and styles were made by my mother 
and sister; and I was allowed to have 
my say only about the collar's shape 
and other small details that did not 
matter. At the fittings my mother stood 
closer to me than usual and touched 
me, or rather, handled the material 
next to my skin in a sure way as if in 
touching there were no problems ever. 
She came out of her usual remote and 
distracted air, and half-peevishly, half- 
humbly submitted to the final judg- 
ments of the seamstress. 

The seamstress was very quiet, 
dressed in black, completely in charge 
of herself and the situation. She was a 
middle-aged widow, and this called for 
silence on everybody's part, and made 
her work something to be respected on 
account of death. 

She stayed a week or two working 
incessantly. She did not come down- 
stairs to eat with us but ate off a plate 
on top of the sewing machine. She 
never looked up at anyone or at any- 
thing except her work, and she left, 
half-defiant, half -forlorn, when she 
was done. In the room there remained 



a faint odor of her sitting there and of 
ironed and singed clothes. 

All this seemed close to a miracle to 
me, and she, a kind of higher being. 
She cut the expensive materials with- 
out hesitating, never spoiling or wast- 
ing anything. She made the patterns 
herself just by looking at the French 
magazines my mother held before her 
with an unsteady hand, and everything 
fit perfectly. As for my mother, she 
could sew in straight lines: she mended 
torn sheets and made pillow cases and 
diapers, but nothing free or in the 
round. 

No electric appliances existed at 
the time except the radio, and the sew- 
ing machine was kept turning by hand. 



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It made a sound like a miniature train 
going places. I imagine that this was 
the first machine sound to reach me in 
the womb, while my mother made dia- 
pers as she was waiting for me, just as 
she later did for my brother. The sew- 
ing machine's motions and its sound I 
imitated in the bathtub, cutting the 
water into ribbons that rejoined by 
themselves. I dotted seams with my 
fingers across the surface and felt the 
tub water like a fluid skirt which rip- 
pled round me but did not constrict 
me. My mother rinsed me afterwards 
with water that was regularly too hot. I 



had attacks of fear that my body would 
be rinsed away as the water rolled off 
and down the drain. 

Bathing took place in the evening, 
ostensibly to keep the dirt from getting 
into the clean bed. But I suspect now it 
was mainly a substitute for the body 
contact my mother withheld from me 
for lack of time, lack of interest, and 
for fear it would spoil me. As usual in 
our prude country at that time, she 
kept nudity in front of children down 
to a minimum. Whether for reasons of 
class, or because of her own physical 
fatigue or inhibitions, she systemati- 
cally unclasped my hands when I put 
them round her neck and lowered 
them with a sweep loud enough to 
hear. To give, to make a home for my 
feelings, any material was good enough 
but the flesh. Thus the feel of my 
clothes against my body, the scrutiny 
of others' clothes for the bodies be- 
neath them and the contact they 
promised or forbade, occupied my 
whole childhood. 

For reasons I shall never under- 
stand, I was allowed to accompany my 
father to the tailor's. There I was ex- 
pected to be silent, and I watched all 
the more avidly, more solemnly than in 
church, one man fit another man into 
new clothes. The tailor was in shirt- 
sleeves; the tape measure framed his 
neck and bobbed like a necklace as he 
moved about. As many others in his 
trade he had a lame leg, but he hob- 
bled, kneeled down and hopped up 
briskly as he adjusted the jackets and 
pants being fitted. His face shone with 
something I later recognized as love, 
and it ruled his hands in the form of 
respect and skill, slowing down or 
speeding up his fingers to straighten 
here, to smooth down there, to pin the 
material next to my father's body. 
Materials in salt-and-pepper, in her- 
ring-bone design, in tiny English 
checks, pin-stripes in dark colors were 
swirled off the wooden rolls and thrown 
over the shoulders of my father for him 
to look at in the daylight and before 



© 1981 LynnF. Miller 



85 



the mirror for as long as he would have 
it. My father, who generally was on the 
run, there took his time, a long time, 
and spoke to the tailor as an equal, as 
one professional to another, both smil- 
ing and gesticulating a lot. 

All our clothes were cared for by 
our maid — washed by hand in the cel- 
lar and ironed in her room (which was 
next to my parents' bedroom and with 
only a locked door between). She got 
up very early and fell asleep before 
they did, otherwise she must have 
heard all. My parents went out a lot in 
the evening, or else they talked late 
into the night, and this astonished me 
as my mother otherwise talked very 
little. How the maid figured out what 
to do, with minimum instruction, is a 
mystery to me. She ironed a whole day 
every week, using an iron that was kept 
hot by coals. She kept her back turned 
to me as I sat watching on her bed, 
and when I held on to her as I had seen 
her boyfriends do, she shook me off by 
the force of her legs and did not stop 
ironing. 

She ironed her things last, and kept 
her best blouse out on a hanger till her 
day off. When she took me along on 
her dates I saw her clothes getting 
crumpled and parts of her blouse 
hanging loosely out in front. The back 
of her friend as he hugged her blocked 
my view from where I was playing. 
Before going home, she pulled her 
clothes back into place, pressing her 
hands over them, again and again, 
squeezing herself in place, too, 
straightening everything, smoothing 
her stockings which had turned around. 

Back at home and in bed, my bed- 
covers fell as a curtain between what I 
had seen outside and myself; they kept 




Radka Donnell. Bridging (197 '5) . 83" x 102" 
86 



in the warmth that rose in waves inside 
me. The children's covers were flat, 
lightly stuffed, and quilted in squares 
by craftsmen who also quilted mat- 
tresses and more elaborate comforters 
for adults, which were a bit puffier 
and had running designs with floral 
curlicues. All the comforters I have 
seen in our country were done in apri- 
cot and rose shades of damask or glazed 
cotton material and were called, and 
still are called, yurgans. They had 
enough body and thickness to be piled 
and plied so as to give the illusion there 
was someone under the covers even 
when there was no one underneath. 
Thus they were part of many games of 
hide-and-seek and acts of disappear- 
ance. 

The yurgans of my parents were 
covered with a fine -meshed crocheted 
net to keep off the dust. On top of the 
children's beds there were thin blank- 
ets. Since they were difficult to clean, 
the yurgans were never to be stepped 
on or sat on directly. Yet, even though 
it was forbidden, we sat on the beds 
and jumped up and down till exhaust- 
ed. Once it gave me a terrible pain to 
be pressed down on top of a yurgan to 
be fondled. I thought of the yurgan all 
the time and could not stop trying to 
puff it up again afterwards, even 
though it was not even ours. 

Unless I was late for a meal nobody 
at home missed me actively except the 
maid, but I never spoke much to her. I 
did cry when she left to be married. 
She cried only once when my father 
embraced her after the wedding. She 
was getting married to a butcher from 
out-of-town after having taken care of 
my father's clothes for more than ten 
years, after his fine pyjamas, shorts, 
shirts, and handkerchiefs had passed 
through her hands every week and 
come out immaculately clean. It was 
clear to me that she was saying farewell 
to being close to him, closer than his 
children ever would be. 

How close my parents were to each 
other I could not tell. I seldom saw 
them together except at meals and did 
not understand what was exchanged. 
But I could watch my mother making 
up her face. She first used a lot of pow- 
der and lipstick and then patted them 
off, and plucked her eyebrows lightly. 
I watched the side mirrors, which mul- 
tiplied her face and peopled the alcove 
in which her dressing table stood with 
so many images of her that I got dizzy. 
It seemed to me that I was being envel- 
oped, stuck in the tight space created 
by the play of mirrors round my moth- 



er, as I sometimes got stuck i n mY 
clothes while dressing, not knowing 
which way to push through my head or 
my arms. 

As my mother pulled and closed 
drawers, unpacked packages, shopped 
groomed herself and us, managed 
things in the kitchen, her eyes were 
always elsewhere than her hands. Her 
hands looked out of place and never 
rested in a hold, but fluttered on, i n 
and out of bags, shopping nets, gloves, 
baskets, pots and pans. Even though 
she did not cook day by day, but only 
helped make the preserves and pickle 
vegetables for the winter, she never 
stood still. I saw her rest only when she 
watched the icon of the Virgin Mother, 
the mother in the icon holding her 
baby boy sadly, sweetly, eternally, in 
a restful hold— something my mother 
denied herself and me. 

My father sometimes allowed me to 
walk a couple of blocks along his side; 
and he did have a free hand to hold 
mine. That was the only part of him I 
remember being allowed to touch. In- 
side his hand was gentle and warm and 
his fingers were well padded and soft. 
I remember wishing to touch my 
father's hair, which was curly and un- 
ruly, as I wanted mine to be. His 
seemed to have a life of its own, from 
the way he tried to hold it in place as 
he talked on and shook it briskly. The 
horsehair that regularly stuck out from 
the mattresses had the same sheen and 
spring. 

My hair was the only part of me my 
mother touched with comfort. She 
seemed to have trouble getting it 
combed and spent extra time pinning 
ribbons in it, which always slipped off. 
I rolled and unrolled the ribbons until 
they would roll back into a curl. My 
hair was straight and cut short, as my 
mother considered plaited hair com- 
mon. 

Even before I could read I had 
learned how to knit, but my mother 
hated hand-knit clothes. She preferred 
fine, machine-knit English cardigans, 
and screened my friends on the basis of 
their woolens. I think she was afraid of 
pubic hair, and this rather than class 
prejudice was the reason she banned 
knitted woolens, except socks and 
mittens. 

The only person who had a body 
for me was my grandmother on my 
mother's side. She did all sorts of man- 
ual tricks for me; she knotted handker- 
chiefs into mice that jumped and rab- 
bits that wagged their ears; she laid 
cards, taught me to play patience and 



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how to knit before learning to read. 
She let me fold and unfold her linens 
and polish the leaves of her rubber 
plants. She fell asleep in my presence 
and snored something like little tunes. 
She put her arms around me. 

She also talked to "her dead," as 
she called them. Every Saturday after- 
noon she took me along to the grave- 
yard, and there tidied the graves of her 
husband and three of her seven chil- 
dren who had died in early adulthood. 
She weeded, changed the flowers, 
worked the earth. Sitting by the graves, 
she talked in a normal tone of voice, 
addressing them by name. Holding my 
hand she told me their lives and im- 
agined how they would be living now, 
as if they had not gone but moved to 
another country. Around us other peo- 
ple were visiting with "their dead." 
Sometimes my grandmother untied 
her hair and then tied it again, drop- 
ping a hairpin or two, which I found 
instantly. She acted everywhere as if at 
home, and freed me from the con- 
straints of home and special places, 
though her own movements were cir- 
cumscribed. She had no dressing table, 
but kept her things on top of a dresser, 



arranged as on an altar. In the next 
corner there was an icon and around it 
the photos of her favorite son, his dec- 
orations, and poems he had translated. 
All the corners were furnished with 
symbolic objects. She and her maid, 
like all women I watched, kept moving 
between these special places — corners, 
niches, alcoves, dressers, drawers, 
tables, stoves, with shopping trips in 
between. Their farthest trips were to 
the park, and there I dug in the sand, 
made mud pies and built sand castles. 
When I was young I did a lot of 
hiding, covering up, and melting into 
covers. Not yet ten, I often drew the 
covers tight around me, letting my eyes 
rove between waking and sleep, watch- 
ing the regular patterns round out or 
draw together over my body rising and 
falling like the landscape of the day 
behind me, the order of the seams run- 
ning into disorder, always new, always 
different, and taking on the shapes of 
dreams. Crawling out of them in the 
morning I left them lying there, like 
the snake skins I ran across in summer 
in the woods near our house. 

Many years after, as I made the 
beds of my young daughters, I medita- 



tively received their life from the dis- 
array they left — the unmade beds well- 
ing up with shapes and feelings, and 
the covers finally settling as a float on 
uncertain currents. Starting to make 
quilts was partly a reaction to my chil- 
dren's physically growing out of my life 
and partly a meditation on all the 
other issues I had neglected. The cloth 
stands for personal definition and dis- 
tance, boundaries and contact. The 
quilts, in the end, consciously became 
a speculum through which I finally 
came to love myself and accept my sex- 
uality, my need for warmth and pro- 
tective embraces coming first and fore- 
most. In the initial fragmentation of 
the pieces of cloth, I also encountered 
my anger, which always precedes my 
surrender to others. The interactive 
quality of cloth as a visual, sensual, 
and social given became the bridge for 
me to receive what I had missed as a 
child. 

"Confessions of a Quiltist" is excerpted from 
Lines and Works: Talks with Women Artists by 
Lynn F. Miller and Sally Swenson (to be pub- 
lished by Scarecrow Press in 1981). 
Active as an art therapist, collagist, and draughts- 
person, Radka Donnell has pieced more than 
250 quilts since 1966. 



Leslie Simon 



it is often referred to as the itch, the urge, getting 
your full satisfaction out of life, out of honey, the 
sweet wet dripping down between legs, after Satisfied, 
after Sanctified. After the rain, no one complains, just 
lie there, letting blood-filled organs, tissues, brains re-do 
their molecular needs, cellular renaissance, voodoo dust, 
like magic/ is born/ a miracle, two bodies gave birth and 
fed. this is cock to cunt to cunt to cock counterpoint, this 
is a blessing. O Lord. O Lord, to bed. 

OHMS resistance/ OHMS 
OHMS resistance/ OHMS 
vol-TAGE/vol-TAGE/vol-TAGE (Chant twice) 

energy eLECtric 
energy eLECtric 

the sparkle of your spine on my brow 
the heaven of your scent in my mouth 
the pleasure of your breath at my teeth 
the languor of your leg on my head 
the presence of our love in my womb 
has Burst upon my sheet 
O Lord. O Lord, 
to bed. 

Leslie Simon teaches Women's Studies at City College of San Francisco. 
"Counterpoint" will appear in a book of poems, / nze/Unz/ We Born. 

© 1981 Leslie Simon 




Linda Troeller. Leg over Cactus. Linda Troeller is a teacher, photogra- 
pher, and performance artist. 

87 




Some Solutions to a Problem In Representation MickiMcGee 



Feminist art has often received the 
disparaging label "narcissistic" from 
audiences unaccustomed to seeing fe- 
male subjectivity in the arts. And video 
has been described as an inherently 
narcissistic medium. 1 So when a femi- 
nist artist works in video, it would seem 
she increases her chances of producing 
work which will be read as narcissistic. 
But a narcissistic representation, whe- 
ther it results from audience predispo- 
sition or is produced in the technology 
of the medium, is incompatible with a 
feminist aesthetic. * 

Early feminist art, particularly as it 
developed on the West Coast, began 
with a consideration of women's per- 
sonal experience. 3 Work took the form 
of autobiography, exploration of self, 
and affirmation of female experience. 
Some audiences used "autobiograph- 
ical" in a pejorative sense; "self-indul- 
gent" and "narcissistic" were dismissals 
of feminist work. However, within the 
women's community such work was 
seen within the context of the then- 
common process of consciousness- 
raising and the oft-repeated slogan, 
"the personal is political." Feminists 
viewing autobiographical work could 
readily locate an individual woman's 
experience within an emerging analysis 
of women's oppression. For this audi- 
ence, feminist art was not narcissistic 
but profoundly political. 

But for any audience unfamiliar 
with feminist ideology, making the 
connection between individual wom- 
en's experiences and a larger social 
context was often a frustrating task. 
The therapeutic working through of 
personal experiences (particularly 
common in performance art) was inac- 
cessible to many audiences, who were 
ill -equipped to recognize the political 
significance of women's stories. For 
these audiences, the inaccessibility of 
the work recalled the insular quality of 
the narcissist. They saw the artist as 
wrapped up in herself, much as the 
narcissist is trapped in her/himself. 
Without a shared political ideology (or 



*Aside from delineating the psychological 
condition of narcissism, "narcissistic" will de- 
scribe social phenomena symptomatic of the 
narcissistic personality and artworks which 
mimic the psychology of the narcissist. The 
term will not be employed in a qualitative, 
vernacular, or metaphorical sense. 



*Martha Rosier considers the problem of de- 
fining feminist art: 

...obviously, not all women are feminists. 
Neither docs an identification with the wom- 
en artists' movement imply any necessary 
commitment to feminism (which I see. as 
necessitating a principled criticism of eco- 
nomic and social power relations and some 
commitment to collective actions). Nor does 
a conscious identification with feminism 
make one's art necessarily feminist.- 

My use of this definition is meant to delineate 
a specific type of politically engaged artwork, 
rather than to judge quality or "correctness." 



"In early psychological research, "narcissism" 
was used by Havelock Ellis to refer to auto- 
eroticism. Later, Freud adopted the term in 
his libido theory to describe a condition in 
which the ego turns its energy back on itself, 
rather than directing it toward others. Freud 
distinguished between primary narcissism (a 
healthy stage of ego development) and a sec- 
ondary narcissism (a pathological condition 
in which the ego becomes the sole object of 
its love). 



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Joan Jonas. Vertical Roll (1972). Photo by Rich- 
ard Landry. 



at least the shared experience of being 
female), some audiences were unable 
to see the personal revelations of femi- 
nist art as anything but narcissistic. 
Avoiding inaccessible and narcissistic* 
representations remains a challenge 
to artists addressing political issues 
through autobiographical work. 

Recently, "narcissism" has been 
used to describe everything from jog- 
ging and health foods to the human 
potential movement, straying far from 
the clinical label for a character dis- 
order. 4 This application of the psy- 
chological term to a series of socio- 
logical phenomena is not without 
problems. Using "narcissism" to de- 
scribe cultural phenomena risks en- 
couraging "psychological explanations 
and cures for trends that are social in 
origin." 5 One may mistakenly locate 
the source of the narcissistic or alienat- 
ing culture in the personality of the 
individual, encouraging only individu- 
al psychotherapeutic cures for social 
problems. However, to limit the use of 
narcissism to a psychologist's label* ob- 
scures the dialectical relationship of 
the individual to the society which pro- 
duces her/him: while the narcissist 
doesn't create the social order, s/he 
plays a crucial role in the maintenance 
of the socioeconomic order. Theodor 
Adorno cautions: 

The separation of society and psyche is 
false consciousness; it perpetuates con- 
ceptually the split between the living 
subject and the objectivity that governs 
the subjects and yet derives from them. b 

Specifics of feminine narcissism are 
at odds with feminist representation. 
Feminine narcissism results from a 
basic mechanism of women's oppres- 
sion: the emphasis placed on women's 
appearance. 7 Patriarchal cultures de- 
mand narcissism of women and simul- 
taneously disparage women for their 
self -obsession. As Simone de Beauvoir 
has written: "conditions lead woman, 
more than man, to turn toward her- 



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self and devote her love to herself." 8 
What are these conditions? Economic 
and social relations which require 
women to gain access to power (albeit 
cosmetic power) via men make a pre- 
occupation with the self nothing less 
than a survival tactic for women. For a 
woman to relinquish her narcissism, to 
stop presenting herself as an object of 
delectation, is to abandon the privi- 
leges allotted to her. 

An art which reproduces narcis- 
sism, and a hierarchical artworld 
which requires self-aggrandizement, 
aligns itself with the social relations* 
of domination required in a corporate 
structure. Literature on mass media 
suggests that the narcissist is the ideal 
personality in a consumer economy, 
since s/he will participate in endless 
consumption when confronted with 
advertising which appeals to the en- 
hancement of self. 10 A narcissistic art 
implies a tacit acceptance of the self- 
obsession so crucial to the maintenance 
of an expansive economic system. 

There are unique characteristics of 
video art which predispose it to narcis- 
sistic uses. Critics Rosalind Krauss and 
Stuart Marshall have commented on 
the narcissistic character of video 
produced by both men and women." 
They locate the source of narcissism in 
video in the apparatus of video produc- 
tion, which has certain structural simi- 
larities to a mirror. When an artist sets 
up a simple closed circuit of camera 
monitor, s/he performs for her/himself 
in a nonreversing mirror. Stuart Mar- 
shall comments: 

To describe this situation [of video art 
production] as narcissistic is not to use 
the term in a vague and qualitative 
sense, but to point to the actual inter- 
subjective structures that the tech- 
nology reproduces in its structure. The 
idealized body image takes on the sig- 
nificance of the master image, which is 
the self-aggrandizement of the sub- 
ject. 12 

Artists' video developed when art- 
ists were becoming increasingly aware 
of the need for self-promotion. The 
cultivation of an image — of one's self 
and one's art as a distinctive product — 
is essential for success in the art mar- 
ketplace. Under these conditions of 
prouduction, an artist's videotape acts 
as a television commercial for the artist. 
Tapes can be mailed almost anywhere 
for viewing, and unlike postal art or 
artists' books, video can be shown to 
mass audiences. (Recall Chris Burden's 
videotape shown on late-night televi- 



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Lynda Benglis. Document (1972). 

*joel Kovcl points out that the narcissist is 
often "a perfectly well-functioning citizen" 
but has "a peculiar veneer-like quality of so- 
cial relations" that lacks any depth of attach- 
ment and any "notion of transcendence of 
universality ... the narcissistic character is 
unable to affirm a unity of project or pur- 
pose, a common goal, with other people in a 
way that goes beyond immediacy or instru- 
mentality. They do fine with the rules for 
everyday alienated discourse, but cannot go 
beyond and therefore are lost to class-con- 
sciousness, history, and necessarily the fu- 
ture." 9 




Marge Dean. Streamlining (1980). Photo by 
Marge Dean. 











Marge Dean. Things Have Changed over the 
Years (1980). Photo by Marge Dean. 




Martha Rosier. Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Sim- 
ply Obtained (1977). Photo by Martha Rosier. 



sion. Burden listed his name in a se- 
quence of famous artists: Michelangelo 
. . .da Vinci. . .Chris Burden.) Video, 
if only because of its particular capa- 
cities in the production of art stars, 
tends to entail a character of self-ag- 
grandizement. 

Women producing video haven't 
escaped the narcissism prompted by 
the technology and promoted by the 
structure of the art market. Tapes by 
Linda Benglis (Collage, Now, On 
Screen, and Document), Hermine 
Freed (Two Faces), and Joan Jonas 
(Duet, Left Side/Right Side, and Ver- 
tical Roll) have all been discussed as 
examples of the aesthetics of narcis- 
sism. 13 These works share a particular 
use of the medium in which "cameras 
and mixers equipped with mirror re- 
versal and image combination facilities 
allow for the making of complex elec- 
tronic mirrors, where a present self 
interacts with the image of one or more 
past selves." 14 In these "self-portraits" 
the artists bracket out all but the ob- 
jects of their immediate concern — 
themselves. Such bracketing out of the 
world is analogous to the narcissist's 
withdrawal into her/himself. However, 
it would be a mistake to believe, as 
Marshall asserts, that these works carry 
a "political insistence" because their 
makers are women. 15 Simply represent- 
ing the condition of narcissism does not 
constitute a critique of the condition 
or of the social relations which produce 
self-obsession. Such representation re- 
ifies the process of narcissism, provid- 
ing no insight into the complex social 
relations involved in its formation. 

Joan Jonas' images of herself ex- 
ploring the video medium exemplify 
the problem of the inadvertent reified 
representation of narcissism. Vertical 
Roll is a series of images taped off of a 
monitor in which the vertical hold has 
been adjusted to establish a steady ver- 
tical motion of passing frames. The 
image and sound of Jonas tapping a 
spoon set up one rhythm; the steady 
jumping of the image, another. The 
image, the sound, and the flickering of 
the screen move in and out of phase. 
The sound of the tapping of the spoon 
continues with a variety of vertically 
rolling images —Jonas moving her feet 
back and forth, wearing a mask, walk- 
ing and running in place, turning her 
hand palm up, palm down. Her mo- 
tion and the camera movement are 
subordinate to the steady motion cre- 
ated within tne electronics of the moni- 
tor. One has the sense of being trapped 
by the technology: while trying to in- 

89 



vest the image with some status of reali- 
ty, one is constantly confronted with 
the reality of electronic mediation. 
Jonas and her image are insulated, 
bracketed between the camera and the 
monitor, much as the narcissist is 
trapped between the self and the image 
of self. And the spectator's frustrated 
attempts to disavow the presence of the 
monitor 16 echo the narcissist's futile 
desire to be simultaneously the subject 
and the object of her/his own love. 
Jonas' unintentional enactment of nar- 
cissism in Vertical Roll is an aside: 
secondary to her concern with rhythm, 
form, and the technology of the me- 
dium. In On Screen and Document, 
Linda Benglis positions herself between 
the camera and the monitor, enclosed 
between the electronic gaze of the 
camera and the nonreversing reflec- 
tion of the monitor. Again, the per- 
vading undertone of narcissism leaves 
a sense of the inevitability of feminine 
self-obsession. Jonas' and Benglis' early 
video reproduces the characteristics 
of narcissism unintentionally, neither 
critiquing the cultural sources of the 
condition nor investigating its preva- 
lence among women. 

How do feminist artists, committed 
to producing politically engaged art- 
works, confront the narcissism encour- 
aged by the artworld, prompted by the 
video apparatus, and attributed to 
feminist art? Several strategies are em- 
ployed. Working in a documentary 
mode or devising a narrative using 
actors are two direct ways of avoiding a 
narcissistic representation. The sim- 
plest means is to turn the camera onto 
the world, rather than pointing it at 
oneself. In the more problematic case 
of a feminist dealing with autobio- 
graphical material or the perception of 
self, turning the camera on oneself is 
not only appropriate, but necessary. 
How do feminists avoid the representa- 
tional problem of narcissism in tapes 
about personal experiences and in 
work where they're the "stars"? Con- 
sidering the work of Martha Rosier, 
Marge Dean, Nancy Angelo, and Can- 
dace Compton offers some answers to 
this question. 

Martha Rosler's Vital Statistics of a 
Citizen, Simply Obtained addresses 
the issue of the perception of self, but 
her theoretical stance in relation to the 
subject forestalls a narcissistic reading 
of the tape. In real-time footage Rosier 
is systematically undressed and meas- 
ured by two white-coated technicians. 
Three female assistants appear, each 
employing a noisemaker (a bell, a ka- 

90 



zoo) to indicate whether her measure- 
ments are above average, average, or 
below average. After this seemingly 
interminable procedure ends, Rosier is 
led away by the women, who assist her 
in dressing, alternately, in a white 
gown and a black evening dress. The 
two sequences of Rosier being dressed 
are intercut, creating a virgin/whore 
montage and concluding the real-time 
footage. Throughout this first act Ros- 
ier presents her analysis through the 
voice-over, discussing dehumanization 
through testing and measurement and 
scientific "truth" as a means of social 
control. Rosier talks about the con- 
struction of the feminine self: 

Her mind learns to think of her body 
as something different from her self. It 
learns to think, perhaps without aware- 
ness, of her body as having 'parts. " 
These parts are to be judged. The self 
has already learned to attach value to 
itself. To see itself as a whole entity 
with an external vision. She sees herself 
from the outside with the anxious eyes 
of the judged who has within her the 
critical standards of the ones who 
judge} 1 

One could argue that Rosler's nude 
appearance in Vital Statistics necessi- 
tates a narcissistic reading of the work. 
Such a stance fails to consider the dis- 
tancing Rosier develops by placing 
herself relatively far away from a fixed 
camera. No closeups or cuts are used 
to titillate the audience or to break the 
tedium of the measuring procedure. 
There are no slow pans up a calf to a 
thigh, no cuts to parted lips. She inter- 
rupts the voyeuristic pleasure attrib- 
uted to traditional narrative film and 
television devices 18 by producing the 
image of a clinical, bureaucratic strip- 
ping, rather than a seductive burlesque. 
Although Rosler's theoretical 
stance and camera location distance 
the audience from her image, the work 
raises an issue that has plagued wom- 
en's body art. Lucy Lippard notes: 

Men can use beautiful, sexy women as 
neutral objects or surfaces, but when 
women use their own faces or bodies 
they are immediately accused of nar- 
cissism. There is an element of exhibi- 
tionism in all body art, perhaps a legit- 
imate result of the choice between ex- 
ploiting oneself or someone else. Yet 
the degree to which narcissism informs 
the work varies immensely. Because 
women are considered sex objects, it is 
taken for granted that any woman who 
presents her nude body in public is 



doing so because she thinks she is beau- 
tiful. She is a narcissist, and Acconci 
with his less romantic image and pim- 
ply back, is an artist.™ 

The narcissist and the exhibitionist 
share an enslavement to the attention 
of others. But Rosier appears not as 
the exhibitionist, the image to be ad- 
mired, but as the anonymous statistic 
of a totally administrated environment 
Her role as anonymous subject, com- 
bined with her analysis of the self- 
scrutiny requisite to "femininity" and 
the use of deeroticized camera, work to 
preclude a narcissistic reading of Vital 
Statistics. 

Marge Dean appears in two of her 
tapes, Things Have Changed Over the 
Years and Streamlining, yet also re- 
sists tendencies toward narcissism. In 
Things Have Changed Dean sits be- 
hind a table, eating foods from various 
diets of the last century. Titles indicate 
the time period, while the audio track 
is a litany of diets published between 
1890 and the present. Intercut with 
shots of Dean eating are titles noting 
historical events in popular culture 
(such as the publication of the best- 
seller How to Win Friends and Influ- 
ence People). In Streamlining a text 
from an exercise manual of the same 
name is montaged with a discussion of 
streamlining in industrial design. Inter- 
cut with images of the exercise manual 
and advertisements selling streamlined 
products of the 1940's and 50's are 
sequences of Dean performing the 
exercises prescribed for obtaining a 
svelte figure. Dean locates the phenom- 
enon of slimming in a historical con- 
text. Within the narcissistic culture 
there is a loss of continuity with, and 
concern for, history, but her attention 
to the historical placement of her sub- 
jects prevents that "trapped in the 
moment" perception of time. 

Both Dean and Rosier use fixed 
cameras that disrupt the scopophilia 
(pleasure in looking) associated with 
traditional narrative film and video 
techniques (closeups, quick cuts, zoom- 
ing, panning, tracking). Whether or 
not the destruction of the viewing 
pleasure provided by television and 
film forms is essential to a feminist 
video or film is not at issue here, but it 
is worth noting that avoiding tradi- 
tional camera moves proves useful in 
circumventing the narcissistic tenden- 
cies of video. Along with their camera 
strategies and their location of a pri- 
vate experience within either a theoret- 
ical analysis or a historical period, 



■u- 

-i, 
n- 



St 

n 

is 



both Dean and Rosier address the issue 
of women's appearance. Feminine nar- 
cissism is encouraged (if not directly 
produced) by the cultural emphasis on 
women's appearance. Their tapes 
stand unalterably opposed to external- 
ly imposed standards of feminine beau- 
ty. Certainly this stance, along with a 
placement of private experience in a 
larger framework and deeroticized 
camera work, informs their production 
of video that refuses to mimic the psy- 
chology of the narcissist. 

Candace Compton and Nancy An- 
gelo employ another strategy in their 
production of The Nun and the Devi- 
ant. Collaboration, or any collective 
production, confronts the isolation 
and individualism endemic to the nar- 
cissistic condition. The narcissist can- 
not have an intimate relationship; the 
dialogue of their collaboration mili- 
tates against this isolation. The Nun 
and the Deviant opens with Angelo 
and Compton sitting at a table in a 
.parking lot, dressing up as their respec- 
tive characters. They converse: "Can- 
dace, could you pass me my. . ." In 
a whispered second soundtrack, they 
talk about their process of collabora- 
tion, about their fears and hesitations: 
"All the images are Candace's" or "I'm 
afraid of being misunderstood, caring 
more about this than her." After dress- 
ing, each character speaks in a closeup 
shot, exposing the failure of her char- 
acter. The nun says, "Forgive me, I'm 
guilty, I can't serve you properly." The 
deviant says, "I'm no good, I just pre- 
tend, I steal, I'm not sincere, believe 
me." While one speaks the other stands 
in the background smashing dishes. 
Each expresses her anger and frustra- 
tion: the nun complains that she's al- 
ways expected to be good; the deviant 
insists that she actually is a good per- 
son. The confessional nature of this 
work and the use of personal experi- 
ence without any pointed analysis 
could easily lead the viewer to a narcis- 
sistic reading of The Nun and the 
Deviant were it not for the obvious col- 
laborative element. 

The development of alter egos, fic- 
titious doubles or "twins," a common 
practice among women performance 
artists, is also an aspect of the narcis- 
sistic personality. Simone de Beauvoir 
describes this aspect of the narcissist, 
who "builds up a double that is often 
sketchy, but who sometimes constitutes 
a definite personage whose role the 
woman plays for life." 20 She notes that 
"the mirror is not the only means of 
obtaining a double, though the most 



favored. Everyone can create a twin 
through inward dialogue." 21 The nun 
and the deviant are created out of an 
inward dialogue, but their collabora- 
tion resists the isolated introspection of 
the narcissist. Angelo and Compton 
have produced a tape which plays on 
the subtle distinctions between a point- 
less self-obsession and the self-reflec- 
tion essential for self-determination 
and political change. Their work re- 
minds one of the easily forgotten dis- 
tinction between productive self-exami- 
nation and the crippling self-scrutiny 
of the narcissist. 

Some strategies used by feminist 
video artists that prevent a narcissistic 
representation have been noted; others 
may have been overlooked or may be 
still in the making. Feminist artists 
must continue to invent forms which 




.-.. 



Nancy Angelo and Candace Compton. The Nun 
and the Deviant. Photo by Ek Waller. 

oppose oppressive representations of 
women, while exposing the basis of 
women's subjugation. Women can no 
longer overlook problems in represen- 
tation because these problems are 
based in a social structure and tech- 
nology which is not of their design. In- 
stead, feminist artists must be as un- 
compromising in their work toward 
forms free of narcissism as they are 
unrelenting in the struggle for a cul- 
ture which doesn't require self-aggran- 
dizement and reward self -obsession. A 
feminist representation that contra- 
dicts and critiques the image of wom- 
an as narcissist creates an edge for re- 
presenting and, ultimately, recon- 
structing the female self. 



I'd like to thank Helen de Michiel, Sandy Flitter- 
man, Patricia Patterson, and Moria Roth for 
their thoughtful comments. Special thanks go to 
Mary Linn Hughes for her continuous support 
and to Allan Sekula, whose initial suggestions 
and encouragement were instrumental in devel- 
oping this text. 

1. Stuart Marshall, "Video Art, the Imaginary 
and the Parole Vide," New Artists' Video, ed 
Gregory Battock (New York: Dutton, 1978) 
pp. 103-120; Stuart Marshall, "Video: Technol 
ogy and Practice," Screen (London), Vol. 20 
No. 1 (1979), pp. 109-119; Rosalind Krauss 
"Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism," New Art 
isls' Video, pp. 43-64. 

2. Martha Rosier, "The Private and the Public 
Feminist Art in California," Artforum (Sept. 
1977), pp. 66-74. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcis- 
sism (New York: Norton, 1978); Richard Sen- 
nett, The Fall of Public Man (New York: Knopf, 
1977); Edwin Schur, The Awareness Trap (New 
York: McGraw-Hill, 1976); Jim Hougan, Deca- 
dence: Radical Nostalgia, Narcissism and De- 
cline in the Seventies (New York: Morrow, 1975); 
Tom Wolfe, "The Me Decade and the Third 
Great Awakening," New York (Aug. 23, 1976), 
pp. 26-40, 55-56; Stephanie Engel, "Femininity 
as Tragedy: Re-examining the New Narcissism," 
Socialist Review (Sept. /Oct. 1980), pp. 77-104. 
Telos, No. 44 (Summer 1980) published papers 
delivered at the conference "Narcissism and the 
Crisis of Capitalism" (State University of New 
York, Cortland, April 3-5, 1980). Otto Kern- 
berg's Borderline Conditions and Pathological 
Narcissism (New York: Aronson, 1975) and 
Heinz Kohut's The Analysis of the Self (New 
York: International Universities Press, 1971) are 
works by the two leading psychoanalytic investi- 
gators of narcissism. 

5. Roberta Satow, "Pop Narcissism," Psychology 
Today (Oct. 1979), pp. 14-15. 

6. Theodor Adorno, "Sociology and Psychol- 
ogy," New Left Review, Vol. 46 (Nov. /Dec. 
1967), p. 69. 

7. Sandra Lee Bartky, "Feminine Narcissism," 
presented at "The Second Sex Thirty Years 
Later" (New York University, Sept. 27-29, 1979). 

8. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New 
York: Vintage Books, 1974), p. 699. 

9. Joel Kovel, "Narcissism and the Family," 
Telos, No. 44 (Summer 1980), p. 93. 

10. Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness 
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), pp. 177-183. 

1 1 . See articles by Krauss and Marshall. 

12. Marshall, "Video Art "p. 112. 

13. See Krauss; Marshall. 

14. Marshall, "Video Art . . .," p. 111. 

15. Marshall, "Video," p. 115. 

16. John Riddler, "The Regime of the Video 
State," Journal (LAICA) (Feb. /March 1980), 
pp. 42-44. 

17. Martha Rosier, Vital Statistics of a Citizen, 
Simply Obtained (1977). 

18. Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narra- 
tive Cinema," Screen, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Autumn 
1975), pp. 8-18. 

19. Lucy Lippard, From the Center (New York: 
Dutton, 1975), p. 125. 

20. de Beauvoir, p. 318. 

21. de Beauvoir, p. 704. 



Micki McGee works with video, photographs, 
text, and performance. Her work is concerned 
with gender, language, and social order. 



91 



The material we received was pri- 
marily ahistorical. Women wrote de- 
scriptions of sex with a particular per- 
son at a particular moment, with little 
attention to issues of development, dis- 
integration, adaptation, accommoda- 
tion, reconciliation, or resignation. 
Many of us looked for documentation 
of how passion changes into domesti- 
cated sex, of how passion is kept alive, 
of how friendship drifts into a sexual 
arrangement. It is more difficult to 
describe and analyze change, as we are 
socialized to attend to the static ele- 
ments rather than the dynamic. The 
princess undoubtedly did not live hap- 
pily ever after, nor did her stepmother 
die at the stake. Sex is embedded in 
everyday life. That's what makes it 
complicated and most interesting. The 
static view is safe, but ultimately dan- 
gerous. It permits us to objectify others 
as discrete events in our lives. It keeps 
us from recognizing our responsibility 
as agents of change. 





Barbara Kruger. Perfect (1981). Photo by D.James Dee. Barbara Kruger is an artist in NYC. 



Lesbian and Gay Rights 

Whereas, The National Organiza- 
tion for Women's commitment to equali- 
ty, freedom, justice, and dignity for all 
women is singularly affirmed in NOW's 
advocacy of Lesbian rights; and 

Whereas, NOW deines Lesbian 
rights issues to be those in which the 
issue is discrimination based on af- 
fectional/sexual preference/orientation; 
and 

Whereas, There are other issues 
(i.e., pederasty, pornography, sado- 
masochism and public sex) which have 
been mistakenly correlated with Lesbi- 
an/Gay rights by some gay organiza- 
tions and by opponents of Lesbian/Gay 
rights who seek to confuse the issue, 
and 

Whereas, Pederasty is an issue of 
exploitation or violence, not affectional/ 
sexual preference/orientation; and 

Whereas, Pornography is an issue 
of exploitation and violence, not affec- 
tional /sexual preference/orientation; 
and 

Whereas, Sadomasochism is an is- 
sue of violence, not affectional/sexual 
preference/orientation; and 

Whereas, Public sex, when prac- 
ticed by heterosexuals or homosexuals, 
is an issue of violation of the privacy 
rights of non-participants, not an issue 
of affectional/sexual preference/orien- 
tation; and 

Whereas, NOW does not support 
the inclusion of pederasty, pornography, 
sadomasochism and public sex as Les- 
bian rights issues, since to do so would 
violate the feminist principles upon 
which this organization was founded; 
now therefore 

Be it resolved, That the National Or- 
ganization for Women adopt the preced- 
ing delineation of Lesbian rights issues 
and non-Lesbian rights issues as the 
official position of NOW; and 

Be it further resolved that NOW dis- 
seminate this resolution and the resolu- 
tion concept paper on Lesbian rights 
issues 1980 attached hereto throughout 
the National, State, and Local levels of 
the organization; and 

Be it further resolved that NOW will 
work in cooperation with groups and 
organizations which advocate Lesbian 
Rights as issues as defined above. 



At the 1980 Annual NOW Conference this 
resolution was passed. People active in the 
feminist, lesbian, and gay communities 
have expressed their opposition by writing 
the following statements. 



There are several levels on which the 
NOW Resolution on Lesbian and Gay 
Rights is objectionable. In the first place, it 
is a tactical mistake to define the purposes 
of the feminist movement in negative and 
scapegoating terms. It is self-defeating 
for NOW to attack pederasty, pornogra- 
phy, and sadomasochism when there is 
considerable disagreement among femi- 
nists about the relation of these issues to 
violence and exploitation, and when they 
are being used as mobilizing issues by the 
most powerful anti-feminist forces on the 
current political scene. 

The resolution also assumes that all 
feminists share an identical view of what 
constitutes "correct" sexual behavior. This 
leads to a kind of ideological lock-step. It 
tells people how to think and feel and 
negates fundamental autonomy. This pres- 
sure towards homogenization within move- 
ments for social change should be forcefully 
and vigorously resisted. 

The undersigned women and men run 
the full gamut of views regarding the issues 
raised in the NOW resolution. But we are 
dealing with the complex and shadowy 
area of sexuality, an area where very little 
is known or understood. People making 
tentative forays into new realms of experi- 
ence are being treated as if they were mon- 
sters and criminals. This is narrow bigotry 
promulgated under the rubric of loving 
concern. 

Very often those who hold this attitude 
put forward a hygienic, one-dimensional 
vision of sexuality. They make dubious dis- 
tinctions between fantasy and reality, per- 
sonal and impersonal, the lustful and the 
erotic. In the course of criticizing cruel, 
misogynous, unfeeling behavior served up 
under the banner of sexual liberation, they 
advance an oversimplified and puritanical 
ideology. Finally they become allied with 
reactionary forces which are out to isolate 
and destroy all those who move beyond 
conventional boundaries. In giving cre- 
dence to such ugly stereotypes as the boy- 
lover as child-molester, they bolster and 
sanction the pathological anxieties of the 



common culture. Since NOW is perceived 
to such a great degree as representing the 
feminist movement, the resolution makes 
all feminists appear to be advocates of 
timid respectability who automatically re- 
pudiate everything that seems strange and 
different — and at worst allies, however un- 
witting, of repressive ignorance and prej- 
udice. 

Nancy Anderson, Mark Blumberg, Gene Brown, 
Muriel Dimen, Martin Duberman, Kate Ellis, 
Nancy Fraser, Susan Harding, Marilyn Kaggen, 
Helen Lauer, Charles Pitts, Rayna Rapp, Robert 
Roth, Gayle Rubin, Arnold Sachar, AnnSnitow, 
Judith Stacey, Carol Vance, Paula Webster, Pete 
Wilson 

These signatures represent some 150 that 
have been collected so far and are being 
sent to NOW. 



March 10, 1981 

As feminist activists we are dismayed by 
NOW's Resolution on Lesbian Rights. At a 
time when feminists, lesbians, and gay men 
are struggling against a powerful reaction- 
ary movement intent on prohibiting all 
non-marital, non-procreative forms of sex- 
ual expression, it is imperative that we de- 
fend in the most uncompromising terms 
the right to sexual self-determination. In- 
stead, NOW has seen fit to "delineate" — 
i.e., qualify — its position on lesbian rights 
by going out of its way to declare specific 
forms of sexual behavior beyond the pale. 
Both the tone and the substance of the 
resolution are offensively moralistic. In its 
eagerness to assure the public of NOW's 
commitment to right-thinking respectabili- 
ty, it panders to the new right and to the 
most conservative, puritanical elements of 
the women's movement. It is also implicitly 
homophobic. NOW claims that these 
"other issues" have nothing to do with gay 
rights. Yet by the very fact of its using a gay 
rights resolution as a platform for con- 
demning "undesirable" sexual activity, 
NOW plays into the erroneous but com- 
mon belief that homosexuals have a special 
affinity for such behavior. In effect, the 
resolution puts gay people on notice that if 
they want to be acceptable they had better 
not go too far. 

We believe that all people, whatever 
their sexual preference and predilections, 
have an inalienable right to freedom of 



sexual association with a consenting part- 
ner, regardless of whether others approve 
of their behavior. We therefore support the 
right of individuals to practice consensual 
sadomasochism and to use pornography 
for sexual gratification. Though we agree 
that much pornography denigrates and ob- 
jectifies women, we reject the simplistic 
and demagogic equation of pornography 
with violence, and the confusion between 
fantasy and action that this equation im- 
plies. We also reject the implicit assump- 
tion that there is some objective way to dis- 
tinguish "pornographic" material from 
"legitimate" depictions of sex. In practice, 
condemnations of pornography inevitably 
strengthen the hand of conservatives who 
oppose all sexually explicit material. 

In condemning "public sex" NOW in- 
vokes a concept that is dangerously vague, 
as is the idea that public sex, whatever it is, 
violates "the privacy rights of non-partici- 
pants." What, exactly, does the non-parti- 
cipant have the right not to see? Who gets 
to decide what behavior is acceptable and 
what isn't? This vagueness is particularly 
disturbing in the context of a gay rights 
resolution, since "public sex" has most 
often been used as a code phrase meaning 
any public expression of homosexual affec- 
tion, even holding hands. We believe that 
at worst, "public sex" has far less potential 
for harm than attempts to stamp it out. 

The issue of sex between adults and 
children (not only men and boys) raises 
serious questions about how to reconcile 
children's and adolescents' right to sexual 
autonomy with their right to be protected 
from exploitation by adults. The resolution 
does not take up these difficult questions. 
Rather, by singling out "pederasty" (an- 
other loaded word) for condemnation, it 
merely reinforces the widespread idea that 
having sex with children is exclusively a gay 
male phenomenon. 

In its appeal to "feminist principles," 
the resolution enshrines the political views 
of one faction of the women's movement as 
the feminist position. It implies the exist- 
ence of a non-existent consensus and sug- 
gests that those of us whose feminist princi- 
ples have led us to different conclusions 
need not be taken seriously. The effect is to 
deny the pressing need for debate on con- 
troversial questions about sexuality and its 
relation to feminism. In this way, too, the 
resolution both reflects and contributes to 
a repressive political climate. 

Rosalyn Baxandall, Bonnie Bellow, Cynthia 
Carr, Karen Durban, Brett Harvey, M. Mark, 
Alix Kates Shulman, Ann Snitow, Katy Taylor, 
Ellen Willis 



Those in essential agreement with these 
statements can express their concern by 
sending their own protest to NOW: Nation- 
al Organization for Women, 425 13th 
Street NW, Washington, D. C. 20004. 



Some days my cunt is a burden 

I'd like to lose. Don't want it touched, 

submit my face to the vulvas of others 

because of habit, hate the wet and 

slimy circumferences of them, the way the center 

rolls around eel-like, in my way, 

out of my field of vision, far beyond 

my desires. Some days I do it as a duty. 

Some days I don't care so much about me 
and want to hear about everybody else. 
My friends who want to discuss sex with me 
yecch but even while saying this I'm 
disgusted, thinking of sopping cunts, 
big vaginas gasping with air, lovers and 
potential lovers. AH of it a vat of saliva 
as far as I'm concerned. 



Don't wanna be in love anymore, rub my dumb skin 
on the fleshy shoulders of somebody else, 
taking my warm clothes off: how stupid sex is. 
Mugged by someone else's desire, or worse, 
by my own, lying around in a pool of wasted time 
scraping fingernails across thigh hair and 
murmuring dull syllables. Some days I'd prefer 
sitting in a stiff-backed chair chatting with old ladies, 

or eating delicate tea-cakes, or knitting calmly, 
anything to keep my clothes on, my pulse steady, 
my eyes open. 

Laura Sky Brown 

Laura Sky Brown, a would-be writer and editor, is presently study- 
ing the French press in Strasbourg, France (i.e. , reading newspapers 
and eating a lot of pastries). © 1981 Laura Sky Brown 



We are convinced that there are no 
natural positions, political or other- 
wise, to take regarding female sexuali- 
ty. The very fact that no single feminist 
position could be formulated for our 
issue speaks to the importance of the 
activity we have undertaken. We have 
tried to represent a variety of under- 
standings in relation to the expression 
and repression of our erotic desires and 
sexual activities. 

The privatized condition of sexu- 
ality, the historical denial of women's 
erotic experiences, and the strategic 
lack of self-representation in our cul- 
ture still confine much of our sexuality 
to language of the bedroom, trans- 
mitted over the phone to friends. In- 
deed, some might erroneously charac- 
terize the material in this issue as 
merely "subjective," implying that the 
point of view is not critical or analytic, 
that it fails to make connections to 
conventional Political issues. We be- 
lieve, however, that expressions of our 
subjectivity have been an entrance 
providing access to the unspeakable. 

Despite the feminist insistence that 
all women share an essential social 
identity under patriarchy, it is not nec- 
essarily true that women share a uni- 
form relationship to sexuality, sexual 
identity, fantasy, and sexual practice. 
Is there something we can call female 
sexuality? And what constitutes its 
content, boundaries, and uniqueness? 
Any examination of female sexuality 
must deal with the impact our sociali- 
zation into femininity has in maintain- 




ing the constraints appropriate for 
genderfiedsex. 

We recognize the need for theoreti- 
cal exploration to give form and vali- 
dation to our politics. Yet establishing 
a theory of female sexuality is an enor- 
mous task. The variety of sexual ex- 
pressions and choices threatens the 
fiber of a politics based on identifica- 
tion with the category of Woman and 
the categories of preference which di- 
chotomize us. This issue, at best, 
brings forward the contradictions 
which make the formation of a femi- 
nist sexual politics problematic. Sexu- 
ality is our place of conflict and silence. 
SPEAK! 





94 




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FEMINIST 
STUDIES 




VOLUME 7, NUMBER 1, Spring 
1981: Janet Bruin and Stephen 
SalaH, Never Again: The Organi- 
zation of Atomic Bomb Victims m 
Osaka. Electa Arena), Two Poets 
of the Sandinista Struggle Nancy 
Jay, Gender and Dichotomy 
Susan Harding, Family Reform 
Movements; Recent Feminism 
and its Opposition. Edith A. Jen- 
kins. With Stones From ihe 
Gorge Alice Wexler, Emma 
Goldman on Mary Wollslonecrad. 
Joyce Antler, Feminism as Life- 
Process: The Life and Career of 
Lucy Sprague Mitchell REVIEW 
ESSAY by Berenice Fisher. 
POEMS by Gioconda Belt) and 
Claribel Alegrta. 



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